Disclaimer: The characters and the ship belong to Paramount, but the story is the author's (well, apart from the bits inspired by Gaudy Night, By Dorothy L Sayers)
The first letter arrived the day after the relay stations were destroyed. She noticed it on the way to the replicator for her first cup of coffee; a white square of paper, lying on the floor just inside her door. She had to think carefully for a moment, trying to recall if it could have been there last night before she went to bed. In the end she dismissed the idea - Chakotay had walked her to the door after they'd left Neelix's party, they'd talked for a while, standing together in the doorway. She would have noticed.
The incongruity was amusing, at first, before she knew what it was - in this day and age, with all the technology on board Voyager - someone had pushed a note under her door! She wasn't so amused when she opened the note, the writing was in capital letters, very hard to identify she noted absently, but the sentiment was clear.
'YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR CRIMES IN BLOOD!'
It wasn't so surprising she told herself. This was the first contact they'd had with home for years, not only had it been abruptly terminated, but not everyone would have received good news. First there was the fate of the Maquis and then, she supposed she might not have been the only one to learn that a loved one had moved on, formed a new relationship. People were upset, and she was the focus of that pain. It was only to be expected that someone would need a target.
Still, it was upsetting. They were a small crew, close, or so she'd thought, yesterday she would have trusted everyone on this ship with her life, today she wasn't so sure. She was used to being hated by enemies, but it was chilling to consider someone of her own side might wish her ill, with Seska and Jonas out of the way she had believed she had nothing to fear, no reason not to trust. That raised an interesting thought and not one she wanted to entertain. The Maquis. They might not consider themselves on her 7side, even after everything they had been through together. Differences had been buried, papered over when they should have been aired. She had miscalculated.
She gazed at the letter. Should she tell Chakotay or Tuvok? Logically she should, but she wasn't sure she wanted to confess that a member of her own crew hated her enough to go to the trouble of replicating paper and something to write on and then creeping about to put a note under her door. Perhaps she should do some investigating herself? Or perhaps she should just accept that someone was very angry with her now but that this was a better expression of that anger than violence or sabotage. If there w7ere other letters then there would have to be an investigation - but for now she was inclined to screw the paper up into a little ball and throw it away. So, that was what she did.
Events conspired to make her forget about the letter; the Hirogen invaded Voyager, bringing damage and destruction in their wake. Afterwards there was so much to be repaired and rebuilt, that a few words of a piece of paper were not much of a priority. Until it happened again.
Tuvok had recommended, and she had agreed that they needed additional security drills. Her chief of security had then set about initiating a series of drills at all hours with considerable relish. His latest test had pulled her out of bed at 3am. She had stumbled into her uniform and sprinted for the Bridge, when she returned four hours later her heart sank at the sight of the square of paper lying just inside the door. M
Again the sentiment of the message was clear.
'THE DAY OF VENGEANCE IS AT HAND.'
She couldn't possibly ignore a second message, it was quite clear that the problem had not gone away and would have to be faced.
She returned to the Bridge after a rapid shower and a large cup of coffee, carrying the offending item with her. After just a moment of hesitation, when she wished with all her heart that she was not about to have this conversation, she summoned both Chakotay and Tuvok to join her. Wearily she pointed to the place on the desk where she had lain the letter.
'This is the second of these I've received, the first one arrived about a month ago.' She watched her companion's faces as they looked at the letter, Tuvok's eyebrow had raised, but otherwise he looked completely controlled and alert - it was a comfort, somehow, to be able to rely on his logic and his unerring ability to find the truth. Risking a glance at Chakotay she saw in contrast a myriad of emotions - anger, pain, concern; they were wading into some very murky waters here. He looked up suddenly. Catching her watching him, one side of his mouth quirked up into a quick grin and she felt confidence surge through her. She always felt better, knowing Chakotay was by her side, as though any problem could be overcome. He made her feel as though anything were possible as long as they were together.
'Do you still have the first letter?' Tuvok enquired
'No, I disposed of it. It was just after we received the messages from home, I thought I'd become the victim of some emotional fall-out.'
'What did the first letter say?' It was only after she told them that Chakotay spoke.
'If we know the exact stardate we can check the sensor logs to see who was in the corridor outside your quarters that night, compare it with who was there last night. I know the sensor logs were pretty much destroyed by the Hirogen, but we might be able to get something. When did this arrive do you think?'
'I can't be sure it wasn't there when the drill began, I wasn't particularly awake when I left my quarters.' The conversation lapsed and she was half afraid that Tuvok would raise the issue of trust which would need to be discussed, but which would be better aired in private between just the two of them.
'The problem is, it could be one of us.' Chakotay suggested.
'Commander, when have you ever had to resort to notes to tell me what you think?' His grin; sudden, boyish, abashed was a better tonic than the coffee she'd drunk. She took a breath, returned to the matter in hand and reminded herself sternly that whether this was the case or not, it was not going to be today. 'I refuse to believe that either of you is responsible for this!' She gestured angrily to the letter, she had better things to do with her time.
'While I welcome your trust, I would advise you not to take the, sentiment too far,' Tuvok warned quietly. He was right, she knew he was, but they were only letters, what was that old saying about sticks and stones?
'Tuvok, just find out who's responsible as quickly and discretely as possible. Try to find out if I'm the only one receiving the letters.'
'It would be a much easier task if we could use some form of visual surveillance.'
'I'm not spying on my own crew - not unless all other methods fail. You'll have to rely on the sensor logs and old fashioned detective work for now.'
His quietly stated, 'as you wish,' made it quite clear that he didn't agree with her decision.
They watched each other across the desk - uneasy about the subject that lay between them, undiscussed for so long, unresolved. She took a few steps away, turning towards the viewport, trying to make it seem less of a confrontation, looking for a way to ask the question without causing grave damage.
They both knew it would have to be discussed, both unwilling to rip away the bandages which had covered over the wound for four years. The last time, she almost shuddered, the last time they had really talked about this had been when she'd used Paris to unmask Michael Jonas. On that occasion Chakotay had said very little, but his anger and displeasure at her actions was evident. He had felt excluded; the imputation being that she did not trust him, when in fact she had trusted him instinctively from the very beginning. She'd been wrong over Jonas, Chakotay did not need to prove his loyalty to her. Perhaps it was Tuvok who required the evidence, but that was a problem for them to resolve. It shouldn't have had an impact on her actions.
But, her feelings of guilt over that incident had convinced her that the subject was best left alone. True, the Maquis had struggled to become integrated into the crew - but that was to be expected. She had honestly expected there to be more problems, more incidents. The struggle she had anticipated over the need to wear Starfleet uniforms for instance, had never materialised - no doubt because, willingly or not, the Maquis had followed Chakotay's example.
She would never have gained their loyalty without him, that first year she'd had a recurring nightmare that he'd been killed, or had left Voyager and without him the Maquis were uncontrollable. The dream had disappeared as she and Chakotay had grown closer, the only time it had returned was during what she had named the Jonas affair. She wasn't going through that again.
Suddenly it seemed she had become acutely aware of how few of the Maquis crew members she really knew. Chakotay was her best friend, trusted confidante and perhaps, eventually something more. She would always have a special place in her heart for B’elanna, especially if she continued to pull off Engineering miracles and Gerron had become a special project with her. She was, she thought part mentor, part surrogate parent as far as he was concerned - at the moment she was supervising his PhD. Other than these cases, how much did she know about those of her crew who had formally been in the Maquis?
Of course, her logical side argued that she didn't know much more about the lives of the rest of her crew. She had information about them, Starfleet was assiduous about providing information, but she was equally distant from most of them. It was a necessity, it went with the territory. Out here, it could be argued that such traditions had little use or relevancy, but so much of the rule book had been torn up already somehow she balked at the idea of rewriting those well defined ways of behaving she had been educated and socialised to uphold.
She shook her head, reminding herself that she had more pressing matters to attend to. Chakotay's silence was an unwelcome reminder of how little he must want to discuss this subject. Turning back towards him she tried to read his expression, carefully blank. Angrily she cursed the anonymous letter writer, the last thing she needed was a wedge between herself and Chakotay, perhaps that was the intention.
'You don't have any suspects in mind do you Commander?' she enquired lightly, realising from the frown that crossed his face that her levity was misplaced.
There was never a good time to deal with something like this, Chakotay told himself. But, this had to be one of the worst. They were all tired after the ups and down of the last weeks. He hadn't even begun to reconcile himself to the fact that not only had the Maquis cause been lost, but also that the Maquis themselves had been decimated, all but wiped from existence. He knew he wasn't the only one suffering with the guilt of being alive and well and out of harm's way - well out of the Cardassians way.
Those were the downs, the ups were that he and Kathryn were becoming closer. She had finally taken a step he had begun to despair of her ever making. Finally admitted that she needed to live her life here and now, that she needed close relationships and possibly, although he was far from clear about this, something more. The last thing they needed was for suspicion and doubt to come between them.
He wondered if it had even occurred to her that she might be in danger, that her anonymous correspondent might attempt something more daring than a few letters, probably not.
He was trying to think who might be responsible, but wasn't coming up with any names. The remnants of his Maquis crew might not all like Kathryn Janeway, but they respected her, as they'd respect anyone who'd managed to keep them alive out here for five years, who'd got them past the Borg and the Hirogen. Besides, if they had a grievance they were incapable of keeping quiet about it, he found it difficult to believe that a group of people who walked away from their lives to take up arms against the Cardassians, would fall back on poison pen letters.
He frowned at her remark, concerned that she might not be taking this as seriously as she ought to be.
'I suppose Tuvok suspects the Maquis well - I'm not sure this is their style exactly.'
'Tuvok suspects everyone,' she said quietly. 'Are you telling me that all of your former crew are happy on a Starfleet vessel, under a Starfleet captain?'
'They're serving you, in unique circumstances and yes, there is a difference. Of course there are grumbles, I'm not sure many of them would be comfortable socialising with you, but you could probably say that about any of the most junior crew members. I know these people and I don't believe they'd do this.'
'Even after the news from home?'
'Anyone could have got bad news from home Kathryn.' She flinched fractionally at the reminder and he wished he hadn't mentioned it.
But she had already moved on with her thoughts. Her frown was creased in a frown and her expression darkened at her thoughts. 'I suppose we have to consider the possibility that all this time on Voyager may have effected someone's sanity. That they may have become unbalanced.
'Another stick to beat herself with.' That's what he'd called her suggestion that their confinement on Voyager might have caused someone to become unbalanced. He winced as he recalled the words, not the brightest thing he'd ever said. There had been no obvious evidence that he'd touched a raw nerve, but he could tell that he had inadvertently strayed onto dangerous ground when his apology was received with a vague look and a wave of the hand, followed by a suggestion that they try to forget about this problem for a while and get on with some real work.
'A good idea in principle, he'd certainly tried to concentrate on a number of routine tasks, reports, the simulation results, he's even been to Astrometrics to talk with 7, an exercise which normally demanded his full attention, but which today had not prevented his mind from drifting away.
Just as it was now. He'd bought a data padd into the mess hall with him, but he couldn't concentrate on its contents; instead he kept glancing around at his companions wondering, 'Who?'
'I suppose I don't need to ask you what you're thinking about?' A tired looking Kathryn Janeway dropped into the seat opposite him and stuck her form disconsolately into her meal. 'I find myself doing it as well, looking around and wondering who could be doing this.'
'Did Tuvok come up with anything?' Her expression became immediately guarded and he wondered if it was because of him, or because of the whole situation.
'Well, it seems I'm not the only recipient, so you can stop worrying that this is personal, Tom's had one, so has Harry and Jenny Delaney.' She named four other crew members and Chakotay realised his original fears were coming horribly true.
'No Maquis,' he said flatly.
'There's Tom,' she pointed out half-heartedly.
'I doubt if he counts. What does Tuvok say about the sensor logs?'
'We don't have the logs from the first note - and this morning during the drill approximately thirty crew members walked past my door, apparently two other corridors were out of bounds. Tuvok is checking the logs when the others got their notes, but the junior officers' quarters are in far busier areas, people come and go all the time.
'Whoever's doing this is very clever, or very lucky.'
'And not necessarily Maquis,' she said firmly, meeting his eyes to underline her point. 'There's no proof, we have no leads, I won't make an accusation like that for no reason Chakotay.'
'There are suspicions.'
'I'm not going to let this situation rip this crew apart - we've worked too damn hard, we're stronger than that.'
He wanted to believe her, he really did. The problem was he could already feel the mistrust, see it in the way people looked at each other. Tuvok's investigations were necessary, but they had bought the issue out into the open - a lot of people might be looking for the perpetrator. 'I think you ought to consider speaking to the crew, appeal for unity and ask them to leave the matter for us to investigate.'
'You mean you think I ought to appear on Neelix's show?' It was a struggle to contain his smile, especially when she raised her eyebrow like that and quirked one side of her mouth in an almost grin.
'I think it would be wise.'
'Then I'm not doing it alone Chakotay, it's only fair that you come along, for the sake of unity.'
In the end Neelix's show hadn't been too much of an ordeal. At least she'd had Chakotay there to well, not literally hold her hand. Although, now she came to think about it, new rumours for the 'Are they doing it or not' pool might deflect some attention from the letter writer. Unfortunately, while she and Chakotay were asking for the crew's patience and support, three people were waking up to discover they'd received anonymous letters.
She'd had a theory that they might be able to work out what shift the letter writer was on by looking at when the letters were delivered, although that assumed the letter writer hadn't been absent from his or her post while they were making the deliveries. Maybe they should look at it the other way around, look for someone who wasn't where they were supposed to be, because they weren't getting far like this.
She said as much to Chakotay, who shrugged and pointed out that they weren't exactly overwhelmed with options at the moment. She knew he was right, the sensor logs just left them more confused, the replicator accounts hadn't come up with anyone who'd replicated paper or pens recently, except for Chakotay and now she came to think about it his explanation for that was less than satisfactory. He'd said it was for a journal - an explanation she'd have been happy to believe if he hadn't looked so damn guilty about it. Hell! Now she suspected Chakotay? This was getting ridiculous.
'You do want to catch this person don't you Chakotay?' she asked, more sharply than she'd intended.
'Of course I do - I want him or her caught before they do any serious or permanent damage to this crew. Is that vehement enough for you? Or do you still think it might be me?'
'I don't think it's you. That's too ridiculous to even contemplate. I did wonder if you might be happier if this just all went away.'
'And have my people under a cloud of permanent suspicion? No thank you.' Her heart sank, it had happened already, she was sure he hadn't even realised what he'd said.
'They're our people Chakotay, remember? I'd say the damage has been done already.'
Kathryn was right, Chakotay thought as the small, sulky looking group filed into his office. The damage had been done already. His gaze travelled from face to face and, although he saw regret there he saw resentment as well. He suddenly felt very old and tired.
Sighing he pushed himself to his feet and asked in a deceptively soft voice, 'Would someone care to explain to me what this is all about?' He knew already, of course, had read all about it in Tuvok's security report. There hadn't been an incident like this for over two years. There had been arguments, disagreement of course, they were inevitable in a small community, but not a near pitched battle.
His gaze settled on the person he considered his best hope for an explanation - he knew Petric of old and, under other circumstances would be surprised to see him here on a disciplinary charge. He had been a quiet and orderly member of the Maquis, someone you relied upon in a tight spot. 'Petric!' he barked, hoping the change of tone would help.
'An explanation - for this incident?'
'There was a, difference of opinion, sir.' That was all the explanation Tuvok had been able to elicit as well.
'Anyone else?' No one was looking at him - they were all perfectly aware what this had been about, but no one was going to say so, especially not to him. 'Fine - you're all fined a month's replicator rations - and I don't expect there to be a repetition of this - clear.' The 'yes Sir's,' were distinctly muted.
'Dismissed.' He watched them file out with a sinking heart - this wasn't looking promising - his sources had told him that someone had accused Petric of being the letter writer, a charge he had repudiated; the next thing anyone knew there was a fight going on in the mess hall, Maquis vs Starfleet. This had to stop, they had to catch the letter writer soon, because at the moment Voyager was not a nice place to be.
He needed to talk to Kathryn, but was wary, their last conversation had not been an easy one. He should have told her about the letter he'd found, that he seemed to have written to himself, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to discuss the contents with her, believing whatever it was about was best left buried. It wasn't just that he wanted to tell her about the fight, he wanted to see her, needed to see her, to remind himself that they could overcome anything, as long as they were together.
Heavy feet carried him out of his office and towards the Bridge - he wasn't really looking where he was going, until he bumped into someone.
'Oops, sorry Commander.'
'It's all right Lt. I was miles away.'
'Everyone seems to have their minds on other things at the moment.' He decided that Megan looked edgy and then thought that they probably all looked that way at the moment.
'Are you all right Megan?'
'I'm fine sir, I just don't like some of the things that are going on around here.' He couldn't help but agree with that sentiment, and he remembered that Jenny Delaney had received one of the letters.
'How's your sister?' he asked.
'Upset, but OK, we laughed about it, tried not to take it seriously; but it's not knowing who it's from, it could be anyone.'
'We're trying our best to sort it out.' As he walked away from her Chakotay had the disturbing feeling that their best might not be good enough.
Kathryn Janeway stretched out on her couch, promising herself that she would only rest her eyes for a moment, possibly two. She had too many other things to do, a pile of data padds awaiting her attention, she couldn't possibly go to sleep.
Sometime later she was jerked rudely awake by the door chime. Damn! How long had she been asleep for? 'Come in,' she called out, pushing herself up into a sitting position and running a hand over her tousled hair. She was feeling a little shaky, the adrenaline of being woken up to suddenly, she took a deep breath, trying to calm down as the doors parted to admit Chakotay.
'Did I wake you up?' he asked softly, looking as though he could do with nothing more than a decent night's sleep himself.
'Apparently.' She gestured to the couch, 'Sit down Chakotay, before you fall down. I'm warning you now, I'm too tired to argue with you tonight, so we'll just have to leave that for another day. All right?'
'As much as I enjoy fighting with you, I think you're right.' He grimaced as he lowered himself onto the couch, 'Believe it or not I didn't come here to disagree with you.'
'Good,' she rubbed her eyes tiredly. 'So what does bring you here?'
'To apologise for earlier, to tell you that you were right and to report a fight in the mess hall over the identity of the letter writer.'
'Oh damn it!' Sudden energy propelled her off the sofa and sent her pacing across the room, back and forth, back and forth. 'This has to stop, we have to find this person and stop them before we all forget how to trust each other!'
'I couldn't agree more.'
'Right, we'll go over the sensor logs again, draw up a list of people who could have delivered all the letters. I'll have the sensor logs checked again, make sure they haven't been tampered with. Once we have some suspects you and Tuvok can begin questioning them, but I want kid gloves Chakotay, is that clear?
'Absolutely.' She nodded once and began to request data from the computer, Chakotay pushed himself to his feet and crossed the room to her. 'Kathryn, we'll do it tomorrow.' He put his hands on her shoulders, fingers kneading the muscles lightly. 'We're both exhausted, we need our minds to be alert, it will wait until tomorrow.'
It was dangerous, being this close to one another, they both seemed to realise this at the same moment but they did nothing to pull away, gazing hungrily into each other's eyes. Chakotay bent his head forwards, so that their foreheads rested together. He couldn't believe that she hadn't pulled back, reminded him of protocol, their respective positions in the command chain. It would be so easy to kiss her right now, he tilted her chin up with that very purpose in mind, watching as she moistened her lower lip. It was going to happen, he knew it was, he moved towards her mouth, brushed his lips to hers, gently, delicately, hearing her sigh and -
'Doctor to Captain Janeway.' Now she did pull away, abruptly wrenching their bodies apart.
'What is it Doctor?'
'We appear to have a suicide attempt.'
She reeled away from Chakotay even as he reached for her; the doctor's news shattering the mood between them. 'Who?' she asked in a croaky voice that cracked with controlled emotion.
'Ensign Lavoy. He replicated a great deal of pain killers and combined it with alcohol. It isn't a pleasant way to die, fortunately he panicked and contacted a friend who had the good sense to get him to me. I've pumped his stomach and he's sleeping it off now.'
'Was there a note?'
'I don't know, we beamed him straight to Sickbay.'
'We'll check that out, thank you for informing me Doctor, I'll contact you later.' As she closed the connection Chakotay moved towards her again and this time she didn't resist, letting him pull her into a fierce embrace, allowing herself for a brief moment to be the person she knew she could be, a person who was not afraid to receive or to give comfort. Neither of them spoke until he had released her.
'I should have kept a closer eye on him,' he said.
'It's not your fault, we all knew he was depressed, that's why we were giving him time. He and Laurel were so close - losing her like that must have been devastating.' She sighed, remembering the task of breaking the bad news, 'I'll contact Tuvok and then we should go and see if there is a note.'
He watched her as she talked to Tuvok over the comm line, he knew exactly what she was doing, concentrating on the essentials and not thinking about what had happened - that would come later and he suspected they'd all be touched by the fall out.
'Ready.' She'd finished her conversation while he had been deep in thought; the memory of their almost kiss sweeping him away momentarily. He nodded and they stepped out of her quarters together.
'I've always been concerned that something like this might happen,' she confided as they stood side by side in the turbolift. 'That someone would feel so helpless and isolated they wouldn't want to go on.' He wished he could tell her that it would never happen, but neither of them would believe it, so he fell back on what he did know.
'Kathryn, he's still alive, we can get him through this.' She nodded, though she looked unconvinced and the opening of the lift door bought their conversation to an end.
A small group were gathered in the corridor outside Lavoy's quarters; they looked solemn, concerned, turning to their commanding officers for answers. 'Ensign Lavoy is in Sickbay,' Janeway said. 'The doctor had treated him and he's remaining where he is for the moment, for observation.'
'But what happened?' Susan Nicoletti asked.
'We don't know yet - that's what we're trying to find out.' Chakotay tried to look and sound reassuring. 'Why don't you all go back to your quarters, there's no need to be here now, Ken's in the best place, really.' The crown dispersed slowly and as they retreated Janeway took a little comfort from the fact that they had been Starfleet as well as Maquis.
The door yielded to her command codes and they entered the neat, orderly room. It felt intrusive to be here without permission. This far from home personal quarters were about the only privacy they could get - and it felt wrong to invade that. Looking around her she realised how few of these rooms she would recognise. She hadn't spent much time in her crew's quarters, except for Chakotay's, Tuvok's and Kes's - when she was still, with them. It made her feel incredibly distant all at once and lonely.
'Kathryn, I think you should see these.' Chakotay was standing by the desk, and from the expression on his face she knew at once what he had found.
Their mysterious letter writer had found a susceptible victim at last; there were ten notes on the desk, ranging from the ones that were worded as the first letter she'd read had been.
'YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR CRIMES IN BLOOD,' to the more specific,
'YOU MUST BE LOSING YOUR MIND, PEOPLE ARE STARTING TO NOTICE, PERHAPS YOU SHOULD END IT ALL NOW.'
Beside these was a short message on a data padd, from Ensign Lavoy, explaining why he couldn't go on any longer.
'How horrible,' Kathryn breathed. 'When I find out who's responsible for this I swear I will kill them myself.'
'I don't think whoever is responsible for this is especially stable,' Chakotay observed. 'They need our help as well.'
'They need to be stopped.' There was no argument about that, 'He wasn't on the list, was he? Of the people who'd received letters?'
'We'll need to talk to him, find out when he received them and then check the sensor logs again. I'm going to ask Neelix to say we want everyone who's received one of those to come forward, to come to you. There has to be some kind of pattern, we just aren't seeing it.'
'Fine - I'll handle it.'
'Thank you.' Her energy flagged a little; he could practically see it draining away.
'About what happened earlier..?'
'Could we discuss it some other time, when we're both not so tired?'
'I'd like that.'
'Do you want me to come to Sickbay?'
She really ought to be able to deal with it on her own, but she was feeling self indulgent and for today the height of self indulgence was having Chakotay nearby. 'I'd appreciate it. You've spent more time with him than I have since Laurel died.'
'Well, I'd known her for longer than anyone. I thought it was helping, being able to talk about her.' Laurel Mendez had been the only victim of the Hirogen invasion, she had bled to death after a stint in the Klingon programme.
'Chakotay I'm not going to let you blame yourself for this - blame whoever wrote those damn letters, blame the Hirogen, but I won't allow you to feel guilty about this.'
'The way you won't feel guilty?' It was a good shot, right on target, she couldn't deflect it.
'No, I mean really don't feel guilty.'
Sickbay was quiet when they entered; the doctor was nowhere to be seen, but Tom was tending Lavoy and B’elanna sat on a nearby biobed.
'The Doc's been called out,' she said quietly, 'Naomi has a temperature.' Tom looked up at the sound of voices and crossed the room towards them. He managed a weak smile of greeting and Chakotay marvelled that this could possibly be the same smart arse pilot he sat on the Bridge with every day.
'How's he doing Tom?'
'He's stable. The doctor sedated him, so if you want to talk to him it'll have to be tomorrow. Besides, you two look as though I should be pulling over some more beds.' All right, so the smart arse hadn't gone too far away.
'The doctor's manner is rubbing off on him,' B’elanna pointed out.
'It better not be,' Kathryn growled, rubbing her neck as both Tom and Chakotay looked pointedly at her. 'Oh all right - yes, I am tired and yes I will go to bed now. I'll be back in the morning to see Lavoy.'
'I'll walk you home,' Chakotay offered, failing to surprise anyone.
'I won't get lost,' she pointed out as they left sickbay, ignoring what was definitely a smug grim from Paris.
'It's on the way.' It felt as if everything had been said and she didn't have the energy to begin a new conversation. Besides, Chakotay was one of those people you could just be around, without needing to talk, she found that very restful.
They reached her quarters first and she turned towards him, to wish him goodnight, only to have the words die unspoken when he brushed a gentle kiss onto her cheek. She'd intended to pull back, but her body betrayed her, the hunger for the intimate contact that she kept buried inside her suddenly surged to the surface and she turned her face towards his mouth; warm, soft, inviting. Her lips opened under the slightest pressure from him and his tongue slid into her mouth, her body arching towards him as she returned his kiss. It was a miracle that no one saw them, or given that it was very late perhaps not so much of a miracle. When they finally parted she was flushed and he was panting. His thumb traced her lips.
'I just wanted to finish what we started earlier. Goodnight Kathryn.'
Complementary styles plus communication make for great team work. If anyone ever needed proof that this was the case all they had to do was watch the Captain and Commander the following day.
As Alpha shift began their day the Captain swept through the ship on one of her impromptu tours, with a small group of senior officers trailing I her wake. She went everywhere, asking pertinent and intelligent questions, giving praise and compliments; demonstrating just how well informed she was about what went on - morale improved significantly.
Chakotay in contrast took a more circuitous route. Throughout the day he could be observed talking to people; in the mess hall, in his office, he was in Engineering, in Sciences, he was sighted near security. All of the time he was focussed on two tasks - finding out who else had received letters and when and also calming the whole situation by his accessibility and his willingness to listen.
He talked to several key players within the Maquis group, those who formed opinion, retained influence - trying to take the heat out of that situation. He was good at this, people felt that he was genuinely interested in hearing their point of view. His stint outside Starfleet meant that those people who held views which went against the mainstream didn't necessarily feel that he would not be sympathetic to them.
Kathryn Janeway knew all of this, knew that Chakotay inspired trust and loyalty in a very special way, and she was sharp and pragmatic enough to know how best to make use of his skills. (Hell, she reminded herself, she was the last person to be surprised that people wanted to be around him.) So, at some time in the late afternoon the two of them retreated to her Ready Room for what amounted to a council of war.
Her temper was slightly improved, she'd managed to grab a few hours sleep and a meal or two. It helped to have something else to think about, even if that something was the changing nature of her relationship with the man sitting beside her on the couch.
'Busy day Commander?' She enquired as she poured him a cup of coffee and added the cream and sugar he liked so much.
'You could say that.' He'd heard about her tour, knew that she'd intended it as a demonstration of who was in power here but wondered if she realised just how much it had cheered people up. 'What about you?'
'I've been to sickbay, I saw Lavoy - I wasn't sure what to say to him, but we talked about loss and recovery and I told him about what happened to me and how I felt. I don't know if it helped.' She'd surprised him, telling someone about that tragedy, when everything he thought he knew about her indicated that she hated to talk about it.
'That was very brave of you.' He remarked, carefully, not quite sure how the conversation would continue.
'Or very foolish - we'll see. I've explained that he'll need counselling, I'm reluctant to take up more of your time Chakotay.'
'There's no one else.'
'Actually, I've discussed the possibility of designing a holographic counsellor with B’elanna - she's fascinated. It would require your input to the personality subroutines of course, and it's a long-term project so it won't help us with Lavoy. Would you rather I asked Tuvok? I don't want you involved if you're going to feel guilty about what happened to him, blame yourself, I do that enough for both of us.'
She was serious and it touched him that she would put his well being first. 'I can manage, but I'd like to be able to talk to you about the sessions, sometimes it gets a bit too much, carrying around lots of borrowed anger and grief.'
'You can always talk to me Chakotay.' For a moment they were both lost, living on the expressions in each other's eyes', the promise of their smiles. She recovered first, looking away from him to say, 'I've arranged a meeting with Lavoy and the Doctor tomorrow, we can talk about counselling then. Unfortunately none of this helps us find our letter writer.'
'More of the crew have come forward.' He handed her the data padd and watched as she scanned it. Saw her expression change as she realised, 'there aren't any Maquis on the list.'
'And should we assume there's a reason for that - or is someone playing games with us?'
'Someone's playing games all right - I'm just not sure why, or even what the game is. The messages talk about crime and punishment, and blood, but there isn't enough there to build much of a hypothesis. If we take the messages at face value, someone is accusing the recipients, the Starfleet members of the crew of committing a crime.'
'The treaty with the Cardassians.'
'That's the obvious solution and I don't think we should discount it, but,'
'I know,' she nodded, eyes narrowed, 'it doesn't feel right does it? We're missing something, some detail. I think we need to go back to the beginning - to the timing of the first message, just after we had received the letters from home. You said it yourself Chakotay, perhaps the Maquis weren't the only ones to get bad news.' Feeling a little better now she had determined upon a course of action, she tapped her comm badge.
'Janeway to Seven of Nine.'
'Yes Captain?' The former Borg's voice filtered into the room.
'Please report to the Ready Room at once. I have a job for you.'
'You're going to get her to read the messages?' Chakotay queried as the connection was severed.
'I know it's a breach of privacy, but I can't see what else to do and I don't think Seven really understands about gossip.' He nodded, uncomfortable, but agreeing that their choices were somewhat limited.
'Neelix wants to throw a party, tonight on the holodeck. I've told him to go ahead and we agreed the theme would be friendship.' His voice had changed, dipped to become a purr, she looked up and saw the entreaty in his eyes before he even asked. 'Would you come with me Kathryn?'
'Umm,' unaccountably flustered she fumbled for her response. Of course the difficulty was that she'd like to say yes, but she was wary of the interpretation that would be placed upon her actions - by him, by the crew. Yet, it would probably be good for them to show a united front, go to the party together.
'I could tell you that I think it would be good for morale if we showed up together, but that wouldn't be entirely true. I don't know how the crew would respond - it would be good for my morale though.' He watched her smile and shake her head at his gall - which was probably a reasonable response.
It was difficult, seeing the hesitation in her expression, knowing she was speculating, weighing odds over something which should be natural, simple. 'Kathryn, saying no won't mean we aren't friends anymore.' He was going to let her take the easy way out, apologise for even suggesting it and then the doorbell chimed, undoubtedly Seven, here to receive her instructions. He had never been so grateful to anyone for forcing the need to make a decision when Kathryn said,
'Pick me up at 8?'
She was ready with 10 minutes to spare, which gave her time to check with Tuvok about the ship's status and attend to a few other routine matters. She was just concluding these tasks when Chakotay arrived. It wasn't exactly a deliberate statement, although at some level she was aware that she was keeping him waiting so that he would get the message that it was business as usual for them. The woman who had vacillated over this invitation a few hours ago was long gone.
He wasn't exactly surprised - they'd played this game before, one step forward, two steps back. Normally he understood the rules perfectly and for the most part he played along. Sometimes the devil in him objected and he rebelled a little - like tonight.
'Would it me inappropriate of me to say you look wonderful?' He asked, gazing at her with admiration. She didn't even blush, which made him wonder if his compliments were becoming predictable and unconsciously determine to press a little harder.
'Yes it would, extremely inappropriate, but thank you anyway. I'm afraid I don't feel wonderful at the moment.' Tired, dispirited, worried; there were lots of words that seemed to match their mood and he experienced a momentary pang of regret at persuading her to attend if she wasn't feeling up to it.
'We don't have to go.'
'Yes we do, morale is lousy.' He wished just once, that going to a party together wasn't a chore, wasn't something she did in the line of duty - but didn't mention it. Instead they left her quarters discussing ways to improve morale, neither of them mentioning the obvious soloution - stopping the letters. Independently they had both decided to have a night off from that.
Kathryn winced as she watched Chakotay doing the rounds, he had been noticeably cooler towards her since she had made it sound as though she was attending this party with him as just another aspect of duty - when in fact his presence was the only thing that made it bearable.
She glanced down at her glass of orange fruit-like juice and reminded herself that the party really was going well - better than she had expected. She wasn't sure how it had happened but everyone who was here seemed equally keen to forget their current woes and simply relax a little.
Her gaze strayed over to the dance floor and she watched Tom dip B’elanna and then spin her around before embarking on another intricate set of moves. The sight of them together, what they had found, sent her mind scurrying off in a mantra of 'we can make it, we can survive this,' a form of reassurance which had kept her company over many a long, lonely night.
'Are you all right Kathryn?' She blinked but the shadow which had fallen across her path did not vanish. 'You look miles away.'
'Sorry,' she shook her head to try to dispel the dark images but they refused to budge, 'I was distracted.'
'You don't say,' Chakotay grinned suddenly, 'I've been talking to you for half an hour.' She raised her eyebrow at that and her fears went scuttling off into dark corners. 'I dare you to dance with me.'
'I beg your pardon.'
'You heard,' he leant a little closer ad added in a conspiratorial whisper, 'you know if they're gossiping about us they might not think about the letters for a while.'
'Well, in that case.' It was against her better judgement - but that didn't exactly make it off limits right now.
At first they were just playing, and they both knew it, providing a distraction, putting on a show, engaged in their very own private joke. Then it started to change; the mood between them becoming charged. She started to stiffen in his arms, a pre-requisite to pulling away, calling a halt. But he said quietly, 'it's all right, it's just a dance, relax.'
Her head told her this wasn't the case, but her body overruled that decision and she snuggled into him, moving her arms around him as he held her and everything seemed a little bit more attainable. He was humming along to the music, a little off key and the sound vibrated through her body until it felt as though she were humming as well.
When the music stopped neither of them moved although Chakotay felt as though they were being watched by almost everyone in the room. Eventually she sighed and took half a step back and looked up at him through hooded eyes, for once revealing some of the things she normally kept hidden. 'Let's take a walk Commander.'
This was insane, completely mad she told herself and promptly paid no attention. It had been a good idea to leave the party, they were attracting far too much attention, but now they were wandering together, through the ships corridors, side by side, bodies close, not looking at each other, or even saying much but occasionally brushing their hands together.
She ought to stop this right now and the trifling fact that she didn't want to should make no difference. Should, ought to, the force of those words had no effect on her right now, the only thing she should do was follow her heart; she ought to decide what she wanted and stop worrying about things she had no control over.
Still mulling this over she realised they had stopped walking, arrived at her quarters. Hesitantly she invited him in for coffee, she definitely needed to clear her head. But instead he leaned a little closer to her and murmured, 'If I come in I'll want to stay and I don't think either of us are ready for that yet.'
'Perhaps we are,' she murmured back, taking herself by surprise. Chakotay's eyes widened for a moment and then his lips were on hers, soft, demanding and utterly compelling.
Kathryn Janeway was dreaming, her mind was full of the wonderful and passionate evening she had spent with Chakotay. They had spent hours curled together on her couch; touching, kissing, talking. It had been a wrench to part - but tiredness and stress had finally got the better of both of them and she had sent him home, promising him that she wouldn't change her mind in the morning.
'Bridge to Captain Janeway.' She woke with a start as the hail filled the silent room.
'Janeway here,' she responded as she groped for her comm badge.
'There has been another incident. The Doctor and Commander Chakotay are waiting for you on Deck 14, intersection 12 alpha.' As she stumbled out of bed and into her uniform she was vaguely aware that this was the bowels of the ship - a perfect place for an incident. What sort of incident she wondered as she left her quarters and stepped briskly towards the turbolift - not another suicide attempt surely? Perhaps it was another fight, although she wasn't sure how that would be an improvement; or an assault. That was all it took, pieces of the puzzle falling into place in the back of her mind.
'Halt lift. Computer, where is Commander Chakotay?'
'Commander Chakotay is in his quarters.' She shook off the need to shiver and instead tapped her comm badge.
'Janeway to the Bridge.'
'Yes Captain,' Tuvok, she allowed herself a small smile of relief.
'Something very odd has just happened - I've just been called by the bridge and notified of an incident on Deck 14.'
'Captain, no one has contacted you from the bridge.'
'That was my concern. Perhaps someone was trying to set up a meeting.'
'I'll have a security team meet you at once. Please wait for them Captain.' She smiled a little at his over-protectiveness. 'Shall I contact Commander Chakotay?'
'Yes please, tell him I'll see him on the Bridge.'
Chakotay rubbed his hand over his face and remembered how when he was younger a call in the middle of the night used to fill him with adrenaline and excitement. Later the emotion he experienced would be dread, since in the Maquis such a summons normally meant bad news. The same was true of Voyager - although a little of the adrenaline was back as well - not enough he reflected ruefully, not nearly enough.
He looked carefully around him and decided that the officers on the late shift must be wondering what was going on. Not only had he arrived, summoned by Tuvok, but before then there had been the Captain's hail and now, the doors to the Bridge swished open, here she was, flanked by one of Tuvok's security officers - yes, there was definitely something going on.
'Commander - would you join me in my Ready Room please?' She didn't look happy, not that he could blame her, he wasn't feeling very happy either - and things had been going so well.
'There was no one there,' she said as the doors closed behind them.
'I'm not surprised, are you OK?'
'Oh, I'm fine, unless you think I made all this up? Or that I imagined it?'
'No - I don't think that. What I think is that someone just tried to lure you to a fairly remote part of the ship and I'm wondering why that was?'
'Perhaps they wanted to talk.' Chakotay could see from her expression that she didn't really believe that.
'It could be that they were hoping that you wouldn't be believed, that you'd be discredited somehow, perhaps another incident was planned and you would be incriminated. Or perhaps it was going to be an attack on you, I don't like this Kathryn, it's a break in the pattern, whoever is doing this is escalating.'
'What could have caused that? We've got nowhere with the sensor logs?' They said it together, which Chakotay took to be a sign of how well they complemented each other. 'Seven's looking at the letters!'
Despite the sudden spurt of optimism there was still nothing concrete to go on. As she listened to Seven's report Janeway found herself scrolling down the list of people who had received bad news in their messages from home. She found her own name and Chakotay's and heard Seven say,
'I've included all of the Maquis by extension, I know Commander Chakotay told them the contents of his letter.'
'You haven't finished yet?'
'No, I still have a number of messages to look through. It is a task I find, distasteful.' Seven, developing scruples, well - she'd really done a number on her, hadn't she?
'It isn't something I asked you to do lightly Seven, but sometimes it is necessary to do things we find personally distasteful - for the greater good.'
'This is one such occasion?'
'Yes, this is such an occasion.'
'I understand - I will complete the task as soon as possible,'
She pondered over the list after Seven had gone, so much bad news, had the contact been worth it, if this was the result? Or had it been necessary? The final break with a past that so many of them, herself included, had needed before they could move forward. It was difficult to imagine what things might be like if she hadn't known about Mark, if she hadn't found out that he had moved on with his life. One could speculate that her relationship with Chakotay would never have developed the way that it had recently if she still had that tie to Mark. But it was just that, speculation. She wasn't sure that it helped her at all to know that so any of her crew had received bad news with their messages from home.
Her musings on this subject were interrupted by the arrival of Tuvok with a report about the previous night's incident. She hadn't really thought that she might not be believed, nevertheless it was a relief to see the tiny transmitter that Tuvok had found just outside the door to her quarters and to hear the hail that it played when activated.
It was a remarkably simple item, one which any number of people on board knew how to assemble, from parts that could be removed from items in someone's quarters. She wasn't prepared to organise a search to find out who had the requisite items missing. She had a feeling that was exactly what the letter writer wanted, for her to cause unrest in pursuit of the guilty party. The voice on the recording was another dead end - she didn't need Tuvok to tell her it had been computer generated.
Tuvok's investigations had yielded nothing, she wasn't surprised, this wasn't exactly his cup of tea, give him a crime scene or a threat to the ship and he had few equals, but poking around in this insidious, unpleasant, petty (for the most part) behaviour had him at a loss.
'The security teams searched the area thoroughly just after you contacted me Captain; they found nothing suspicious and encountered no one who didn't have a reason to be there. It may have been a hoax.' It was safer to think so, of course, but she hadn't forgotten Chakotay's take on this latest happening and she would be foolish to ignore that just because she preferred not to think that a member of her own crew would try to harm her.
'If I might mention another matter?'
'Yes Tuvok, of course.' There were other things going on? She'd been so wrapped up in this mess that she'd hardly noticed.
'Your relationship with the Commander.' Well, there was always that she supposed, a little shocked by the knowledge that Tuvok was actually raising this subject.
'What about it?' She was allowing him some latitude because of their friendship, but only some.
'Captain, your personal life is not my concern - it would be wrong of me to intervene. What I would suggest is that your vacillation in this matter is, uncharacteristic and emotionally damaging.'
'Tuvok, the decision that I make on this subject could effect the whole ship.'
'Which is not a reason to put off making the decision. Whatever you decide, you should make the decision soon, it isn't healthy for either of you to have this uncertainty hanging over you.'
'It isn't that simple,' wondering why she was feeling so defensive she continued, 'there's the effect on our command relationship to consider and Chakotay has been remarkably patient with me, there's no reason to think that will change.'
'You don't think you and the Commander would continue to respect each other if you decide not to have a relationship with him, or if such a relationship was to fail?'
'Well, not exactly.'
'Then Captain, I fail to see your difficulty.' Which wasn't altogether surprising - she certainly wasn't going to explain to Tuvok the raw emotionalism of their confrontation over the Borg. 'As for the Commander's patience I have always thought you could have prevented this situation from developing by being clear about the parameters of your relationship from the start. That you chose not to do so always seemed to me to indicate that you were not totally opposed to the idea of a relationship.'
She was beginning to wish she'd gone back to bed, there was someone writing anonymous notes to her crew, stirring up discontent and now Tuvok was telling her to make up her mind about Chakotay. Other Starfleet Captain's surely didn't have to deal with this. All they needed now was an unprovoked attack and things would be just bloody perfect.
There was no attack, but half way through Alpha shift they picked up a M-class Planet on long rage sensors. Closer investigation revealed a post-warp society, rich in a number of essential minerals - perfect for replenishing their supplies. They always had a long list of items they needed, or were about to need. Chakotay had taken responsibility for this list when it became clear they weren't going to be getting home anytime soon. He checked it so often he probably knew it off by heart, but he was scrolling down it now - preparing for the trade mission they had organised.
'Ready to go Commander?' He'd been so intent on his reading that he hadn't heard the door open. Now he looked up at the woman leaning casually against the wall and wondered how long she'd been watching him.
'I will be, shortly. I just need to grab the Captain for five minutes.' She smiled at the way he'd phrased it and then shivered as he got close enough to touch her, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, his breath warm on her cheek as he whispered, 'you don't have any objection to that do you?'
She wondered at herself as she shook her head and went willingly into his arms. After over four years of the idea of a relationship between them being so difficult was she really going to let it be so easy? Apparently the answer to that was yes - even though he wasn't pushing her for more - yet. He released her after one long, slow kiss that was quite enough to leave her flushed and flustered.
'You know what you're looking for?' She asked, groping after normality.
'Always.' The smile touched his lips and was gone again before she was even sure it had been there. 'As well as the minerals we can stock up on fresh food and vegetables, maybe some seeds.'
'Be careful.' She always issued this warning, the away team was stepping into the unknown, they'd had a brief conversation with several Planetary officials, hardly enough to judge their motives - but they had no choice.
'I will be; and Kathryn, you watch your back.' She opened her mouth to protest when he leaned into her. 'I'm serious, I don't like our friends preoccupation with blood and revenge. Just be careful - please.'
'I will be.' There were no guarantees of course, they lived inherently dangerous lives, but if they allowed themselves to get complacent, took things for granted they'd be in greater risk. As hard as it was to think a member of her crew might wish her ill, she'd be a fool to ignore the possibility.'
'Shall I see if I can find something that resembles coffee beans?'
'That would be nice.'
It was difficult to push away, to leave him to his final preparations and go back to the Bridge. Perhaps it would get easier with time, the knowledge that she might be sending him into danger perhaps not. She was over-analysing of course, it was a routine away mission and although things could go wrong this time, she was really preparing herself for a time in the future when she might have to send him somewhere without knowing if he would come back.
The day moved slowly on, a few of her anxieties passed when Chakotay reported in from the Planet to say that the negotiations were proceeding well. She was in her Ready Room when his transmission reached her, but she could tell he was in public from the sounds that carried over the link, so, not a public conversation then.
'Did you find any coffee Chakotay?'
'I'm still looking, although I've found some vegetables that resemble sprouts. I thought a few tons of them instead might do?'
'I hate sprouts!'
'Neelix says they're full of vitamins.'
'Neelix can eat them then. What's the Planet like?'
'Nice - so far. The people are pretty dedicated to the art of negotiation, but I've seen no evidence that they might try to take what we won't give them.'
'I can't see why not. They've invited us to stay overnight, I think they mix negotiation with everything they do, so I expect it will be business, not pleasure. But I'm told there's a local wine that's very good, I thought I might sneak a few bottles on board for a special occasion.'
'Sounds excellent, don't enjoy yourself too much.'
'I'll take care.' He had interpreted her warning far too easily. 'How are things with you? Any news?'
'Nothing so far, but it's quiet. I'll see you tomorrow. Janeway out.'
As she closed the connection the doorbell chimed and she wondered briefly if it was a coincidence or if Tuvok had monitored the conversation so that when it ended he could send her visitor in.
Tuvok - she needed to talk to him about her relationship with Chakotay, although Chakotay probably wouldn't be very happy about that. Or, perhaps he would, after all she was the one who kept secrets - he seldom did, walking the line between privacy and openness with enviable confidence. Anyway, she looked up to see Seven's expectant gaze - a problem for another day.
'I have completed the review of the messages.' A data padd was exchanged, 'these are the names of all the people who received bad news in their message.'
'You expect that this will help you to find the person responsible for writing the letters?'
'Yes - I suppose you could say I'm looking for a motive.'
'I see, I hope you are successful, such things are unsettling.' Suddenly the younger woman's face was distorted by an expression of unhappiness.
'You haven't received a letter, have you Seven?'
'No, but several of my colleagues have - it makes them operate below peak efficiency.' She paused and Kathryn had the distinct impression that she was struggling with something new. 'I am - concerned for them.'
'We all are, I hope we'll have the answers for you soon.'
She carried the padd around with her for most of the rest of the day, but somehow she never had the chance to do more than glance at it. The crew seemed energised by the possibility of shore leave and new supplies and Voyager seemed to buzz with ideas, most of them needing her attention or her permission.
The hour when her shift ended came and went while she was in Engineering. The hour when she would probably have eaten dinner passed while she was in a meeting with the senior Science staff. Finally, she returned to her quarters, with the beginning of a headache, conscious that she needed to study the document Seven had produced.
She saw it the moment she ordered the lights to come on, a white square of paper lying just inside the doorway. Her heart sank a little at the sight of it and gingerly she picked it up and, tried to prepare herself for what she would see when she opened it. But there was nothing which could have prepared her for this. She heard herself gasp at the two words, bold and accusing, splashed across the page,
The words screamed off the page at her. The insult had well and truly hit home, reprising all of her fears about the disapproval such a relationship might cause. Her first action had been to contact Tuvok so that he could check the sensor logs, not that she expected him to find anything. Her second had been to speak to Seven, to send her delving once more into the messages, in pursuit if the information the latest message had given them.
It was the third action that was currently causing her a problem and yet, whichever way she looked at it, it was necessary. Sighing at her own reluctance, wondering if it was due to a desire to avoid something unpleasant or because she wanted to protect him she tapped her comm badge.
'Janeway to Chakotay.'
'Yes Captain.' His voice sounder cheerful, as though he were in the middle of an enjoyable conversation, well, she'd be ruining that.
'Commander, I need a few moments of your time, there's been a development.'
'Of course,' she waited while he made his excuses to his hosts, listened to his footsteps crossing a room and finally the sound of a door sliding open and shut. 'What kind of development?' His voice didn't sound so cheerful now.
'Another letter, it was in my quarters this evening.'
'Damn. What does it say?'
'Oh, it's pretty much like the others.'
'Kathryn.' All right, so her evasion had not fooled him for a second, she hadn't really expected it to.
'It's nothing really - short and sweet - but apparently I'm a Maquis whore.' There was a long silence on the other end of the comm channel. She tried to imagine his expression, tried to gauge his reaction and failed miserably. 'Chakotay?'
'I'm sorry,' his voice broke, 'I'm trying very hard not to blame myself for this, but...'
'But nothing!' Her voice rang out clearly, determinedly and Chakotay managed a very small smile in response. 'I'm no one's whore, the insult was designed to cause pain and I, for one, don't intend to let it do so, believe me, I've been called worse.'
'But not by a member of your own crew,' he thought, not saying the words, knowing that the wound they had caused was still open and raw. 'Self abasement is not an option?' He queried, 'well perhaps you're right, although I'm sure you don't need me to remind you that if our relationship was more formal, more in line with what protocol dictates that accusation would never have been levelled at you.'
'Are you telling me that for all this time all I needed to do to get you to change your feelings was quote protocol at you?' The question reminded her of the conversation she'd had with Tuvok, what had he said? "You could have prevented this situation from developing by being clear about the parameters of your relationship from the start." Not bloody likely.
'Well, no all right, that wouldn't have worked. But if we weren't getting closer now, this would never have happened. Maybe it would be better if we backed off a little.'
'Do you really want us to stop? Someone sends me an abusive note, calls me a name and you want to crawl off to the sidelines, after everything we've been through? Well, I'm not having it, you're going nowhere. We decide what happens in our relationship, not someone who doesn't even have the guts to tell me what they think to my face. I can't believe you'd just give up like this.'
'I don't want you to get hurt because of me,'
'I'll take my chances, I don't ever want to have this conversation with you again Chakotay - retreat is not an option.'
'Yes Captain.' His voice was shaky with relief and only now did she realise that she'd been clutching the side of her desk. At least he wasn't so eaten up my guilt that he couldn't think strategically. 'You know what this means?'
'That we were wrong about the Maquis connection, I've got Seven looking now.'
'I'll withdraw the away team.'
'No - we still need the supplies, you can accomplish far more where you are, besides, it will arouse suspicion if you come back ahead of schedule.'
'Very well - I'll see you tomorrow, get some sleep. Chakotay out.'
She'd promised herself that she'd wait - that she'd allow Seven to accomplish the task she'd assigned her. But she was far too restless to sit passively in her quarters and wait for news.
The journey to Astrometrics was a short one, but it was long enough to allow her to reflect on how much her relationship with Chakotay had changed of late. She wasn't sure when or exactly how this transformation had occurred, but it was clear now that they were teetering on the brink of an important development. A few months ago, if he had offered to forget all about his romantic feelings for her and be a rule book First Officer, she might well have accepted the offer gratefully, but now, she couldn't envisage them like that. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, their closeness.
She reached Astrometrics before she could probe her own wishes any further and she forced herself to concentrate on the matter at hand, Seven always noticed if you were distracted, then she was liable to ask why and that wasn't a discussion Janeway was ready to have.
But there was no sign of Seven the lab was silent, dark, deserted. She must have downloaded the data, she could be working on it anywhere, it was just that they'd all become accustomed to how much time she seemed to spend here. She turned on her way to the door, glancing back at the second best viewport on the ship - the one on the Bridge was better - and a chill slid down her spine, she wasn't alone.
'Computer - lights.' When the computer failed to respond she lifted her hand to tap her comm badge, but never got that far. The glancing blow to her head was hard enough for her to see stars of her own. She stumbled and by the time she righted herself her comm badge was gone, plucked from her uniform by the same strong fingers that were currently squeezing her throat.
She thrashed against her attacker. The instinct to fight against strangulation, against the rising red mist, an instinctive one. But she was succeeding only in wearing herself out. In a burst of clarity she remembered what she'd been taught at the Academy and instead of fighting she relaxed, let her body go limp, forcing her assailant to support all of her body weight. Then, with the fingers becoming ever tighter around her throat, she pulled the figure behind her off balance with a move that sent them both sprawling to the floor.
It was a successful move, her instructor would have been proud of her, although he would have probably suggested that she try it a little further into the centre of the room. As she fell Kathryn Janeway's head hit the corner of the console with a sickening crunch and the lights went out.
She must be out in a thunderstorm - a particularly wild one at that. The lightening was white hot flashes of sheer pain, burning her eyes even though they were closed and the thunder was a deafening pounding inside her head. But it didn't feel right, wasn't there supposed to be rain in a thunderstorm as well?
Reluctantly she opened her eyes and took in her surroundings. She wasn't outdoors after all, but in Sickbay. As her vision cleared she could see the Doctor leaning over an adjacent biobed - she caught a glimpse of his patient, blonde hair, a mark like a starburst on her cheek, Seven.
Her gaze slid around a little more and she tried to frown, although it hurt her to do so. Chakotay was at the foot of her bed, deep in conversation with Tom - but that was a mistake, Chakotay shouldn't be here, he was on the Planet, wasn't he?
She groaned and the noise attracted Tom's attention, 'she's awake,' he said to his companion. Chakotay reached her in two rapid strides, he didn't say anything, just bent down to brush a gentle kiss onto her forehead. When she looked up at him she could see the expression of concern on his face and she wanted to tell him that there was no need to worry, but the Doctor got to her first and Chakotay moved aside to let him examine her.
'Well, Captain, how do you feel?' What sort of stupid question was that? The lights in Sickbay were too bright and the Doctor's voice too loud.
'Sick,' she managed to blurt out before vomiting into the bowl Tom held for her. Then she felt the hiss of a hypospray against her neck and she settled gratefully back into oblivion.
When she woke up again Sickbay was silent and empty and her headache had faded to a dull roar. She had pushed herself up into a sitting position before the Doctor appeared by her side.
'Feeling better?' His gruff voice was tinged with affection and she nodded, before drinking gratefully from the glass of water her offered her.
'How much do you remember?'
'I remember going to Astrometrics, looking for Seven and,' Seven - her memory supplied her with the image of Seven's body on the biobed. 'How is she? She was in Sickbay earlier, wasn't she?'
'She's fine, apparently she had just found your body when she was hit by a massive electric shock, enough to disrupt her neural pathways for a few minutes. When she came to again she was able to contact Sickbay, she's regenerating now.' The Doctor narrowed his eyes, 'do you remember anything about what happened to you?'
'Not really,' she screwed her eyes up, trying to recollect and then wished she hadn't when it made her headache worse. 'Someone hit me, there was a struggle, I fell, I must have hit my head.'
'That sounds about right. You were quite lucky.' At her disbelieving expression he added, 'believe me it could have been worse - from the marks around your throat someone was trying to strangle you.' Her hand strayed to her throat as his words stirred a memory. She remembered those strong fingers and how close they'd come to squeezing the life out of her. 'It was quite a busy night,' the Doctor continued, 'we'd just got you and Seven stabilised when all the fuss started about Megan Delaney.'
'What happened to Megan?'
'It seems someone grabbed her and tried to throw her out of an airlock. She fought back and luckily wasn't badly injured, she's very shaken though.'
'I'm not surprised.' She couldn't believe it, three assaults in one evening, Chakotay had been right to predict an escalation. Chakotay, she recalled his presence from the previous night. 'Doctor, is Chakotay still on the Planet, or,' embarrassment prevented her from continuing the enquiry, but the Doctor didn't seem to notice her discomfort.
'Oh no, he came back as soon as Tuvok informed him you'd been attacked. He was here for most of the night, getting under my feet. When you woke up I managed to persuade him to get some sleep. Of course, he's probably awake by now, I said I'd contact him when you came round again.' Before she had the chance to argue he tapped his comm badge, 'Doctor to Commander Chakotay.'
'The Captain's awake - and she hasn't been sick yet.'
Chakotay smiled as he walked into sickbay, Kathryn was sitting on the biobed happily tucking into her first cup of coffee. For the first time in over twelve hours he allowed himself to believe she was going to be just fine.
'I never thought I'd be so grateful that you have such a hard head.' He said as soon as he was close enough to speak to her without raising his voice.
'It's that stage in a relationship, you know when you injure yourself just to see how your prospective partner reacts. You've been concerned, attentive, top marks so far.'
'I'm glad you haven't lost your sense of humour.'
'Believe me I'm making an effort. How's my ship Commander?'
'Now I know you're feeling better, the ship's in good shape. Neelix and Tuvok completed the trade agreement, it's a good deal, the crew - well, they're hanging in there.'
'This has got to stop,' she said with determination.
'Easier said than done, unless you can identify your attacker?'
'No. I didn't see anyone, what about the sensor logs?'
'Scrambled, we think that's what Seven interrupted, but she was hit from behind and didn't see anything. B’elanna's looking at the data now, but she isn't hopeful. All Megan can say is that the figure was wearing black and was very strong.'
'I can certainly vouch for that. Nevertheless, it's time to take the gloves off, this ends today!' She pushed herself off the bed and ignored the arm he held out to steady her.
'Kathryn, be reasonable.'
'I'm through being reasonable.'
'Captain,' the Doctor emerged from his office as she made her way to the door. 'I haven't released you yet - you aren't fit to return to duty and,'
'It will have to wait. Commander, I want you to call a meeting of the senior staff in two hours.'
'Where are you going to be until then?'
'I need to talk to Seven.'
As she entered the cargo bay she shivered, it was dark and quiet and for a moment it reminded her of Astrometrics. But it wasn't the same, she shoved the feeling away and reminded herself that no one lurked in the shadows here, wishing her harm - well, only Seven.
'Seven,' she called out confidently and almost at once the young woman appeared from her regeneration chamber.
'Captain, you are recovered?'
'I am feeling much better. How are you?'
'Sufficiently healed, the Doctor tells me there is no permanent damage.'
'Good. Commander Chakotay tells me that some of the data in Astrometrics was destroyed, the sensor logs? What about the data from the messages you were looking at?'
'The main file was destroyed, but I had already extracted the data you asked me for when I was called to Engineering. ' She held a padd out to the Captain, 'I believe you will find this more that sufficient.' Her secret weapon, as she took the padd she managed a weak smile.
'Thank you Seven, I appreciate your efforts, I'm sorry you were harmed.'
'It is irrelevant, I have learned that sometimes allegiance causes difficulties, I do not regret my choices.'
Two hours later Kathryn Janeway walked into the conference room and looked at the faces of the assembled senior staff. 'I believe I know who's responsible for the letters and the assaults,' she said quietly.
In the ensuing silence she looked at the faces around the table. B’elanna looking as though she'd like to get up and pace, Tom wearing that slightly pained expression he sometimes wore when he was struggling with something difficult. Harry leaning forward, his expression alert, intent, beside him Neelix seemed confused, hardly a new development. She glanced at the Doctor and he raised an eyebrow at her, clearly amused by her own theatrical gesture. Seven was looking openly quizzical - hesitation is futile, all but written on her face. In comparison to all of this, Tuvok's expression was an oasis of calm and control, the most expression he ever allowed himself was a raised eyebrow and Seven and the Doctor were cashing in on that one.
It was an effort not to look at Chakotay, but she'd circled around the table, coming to a standstill directly behind him and so she satisfied herself with a small touch instead, her hand brushing his shoulder once, before she moved on.
'The problem is I can't prove it.'
'You suspect someone?' Tuvok enquired, moving to clarify.
'Yes I do.'
'Who?' B’elanna's forceful enquiry was not exactly unexpected - in face, she'd been counting on it.
'I don't know if I should divulge that information, accusing someone without proof could be just as damaging as the letters and the assaults.'
'And so they just get away with it?' Tom was incredulous.
'If a crime has been committed on board this ship then the perpetrator will be pursued and they will be caught. But they can also expect the same treatment that they would receive if we were on Earth - and in case anyone has forgotten, you can't be convicted on a suspicion, there is the matter of proof.'
'Which we will be obtaining how?' It was the first time Chakotay had spoken and she found herself wondering if he knew, or suspected what game she was playing.
'Ways and means Commander,' she didn't see Chakotay's response to that, but Tuvok's non-reaction was a picture. 'We need to gather more information - especially about the assaults, I haven't had a chance to speak to Megan yet, how is she?'
'Not great.' Tom remarked, 'her physical injuries have been healed but she's a mess, jumpy, frightened.'
'That's hardly surprising,' Harry pointed out, 'how would you feel if someone tried to push you out of an airlock?'
'How serious were her injuries?' Janeway enquired, cutting across the speculation, since no one but Megan could say how she felt. 'Doctor?'
'Bruises mostly, on her arms. It was obvious that she put up quite a struggle.' She nodded and turned to Tuvok.
'I'd like to talk to Megan - could you escort her please. I don't want her wandering around on her own while she's still upset. Jenny can come as well if she's off duty.'
While they waited she thought once again about the suspicion and doubt that still dogged her crew's feelings about one another. 'Chakotay, I'm going to permit shore leave - beginning tomorrow. Can you see that everyone gets at least a day on the Planet? Neelix, could you make sure everyone receives details regarding laws and codes of behaviour?' At their murmured, 'yes Captain,' she at last allowed herself to look at Chakotay. He met her glance a little bit tentatively, their most recent personal conversation still hanging between them. Damn, she needed to be more reassuring, they needed to talk, but not yet. She couldn't spare the attention at the moment.
The door to the conference room slid open and Tuvok entered, with the Delaney sisters in tow. Both women looked unusually subdued, but Megan especially seemed lost in a world of her own, a safer world than this one Janeway mused.
Everyone appeared concerned, making room for them at the table. She was proud of her crew for their reaction, for the way they cared about each other, family or community, whichever way you looked at it there was a closeness there which she had never expected and she was damned if she was going to let it be destroyed now.
'How are feeling Megan?'
'Better thank you captain.' She didn't look up as she spoke and Janeway frowned before she continued.
'I understand that someone grabbed you and tried to push you out of an airlock. Why would they do that, do you suppose?'
'I don't know - I was just walking along the corridor and suddenly.'
'I know, it must have been very frightening for you. Can I ask how you've been other than this incident?'
'You haven't been unhappy, depressed, angry?'
'No- not at all.'
'I'm please to hear it - although I'm surprised you don't bear the Maquis some grudge for the death of your fiancé.'
The air sizzled with anticipation as she waited for Megan's response. At the back of her mind she heard the collective gasp that echoed around the table at her question, noted that it included Jenny. 'That's what all of this has been about Megan, hasn't it? Punishing Commander Chakotay and the others for an act they had no part in?'
Had she really been expecting a denial? Only in the worst case scenario. This had been a calculated risk after all and sometimes things did go wrong. But realistically she had, surmised that Megan only needed the right prompt to explode into confession.
'Except be allegiance!' Megan's expression had been contorted, twisted by pain and hate. 'They are Maquis, they agree with the cause, with the actions taken in its name! Simon didn't even want to help the Cardassians, he was sent there as part of the Treaty and he died there, the Maquis killed him. You make me sick, all of you. Pretending to be their friends, pretending the past has no meaning now and all the time they could have been responsible for the deaths of your family, your loved ones!'
In the ensuing shocked silence it was Chakotay who found his voice first. 'Megan, I'm deeply sorry for your loss, but...'
'Don't you talk to me, don't you dare try to justify what you did. I know how it works with you, how you hide behind all that fake spirituality - trying to find a way to wash the blood from your hands, excuse the fact that you're nothing but a cold blooded water. I've seen you,' she pointed her finger angrily at Janeway, 'you think she's in love with you, but she's just using you, the way she'd use anyone for the good of her ship, her crew. We all know she'll throw you aside as soon as she really thinks the Maquis will follow her orders.'
She pushed herself up from her seat and took a step towards Janeway, Tuvok made a move to intercede, but Janeway stopped him with a look. 'And as for you - you of all people should understand how I feel - I know your fiancé died, because you didn't love him enough to save him. Well, Simon died without me there - because of the Maquis. How do you think it made me feel to see their faces everyday - to pretend to like them, to get along, just like one big happy family. Well, I wrecked that, didn't I? I saw you all, running around, suspecting each other. It made me laugh, it was so easy to turn this family against itself.'
'Megan!' The voice rang out, firm and authoritative and for an instant Janeway was shocked to see the Doctor step forward. 'That's enough, you're overwrought.' It was enough to stop the flow of her accusations. 'I think Megan needs to spend a few days in Sickbay - until we decide what's going to happen?' She nodded, relieved she wasn't going to make a decision about that today.
'Tuvok, make some discrete security arrangements please. We'll deal with the assaults later.' He nodded and between him and the Doctor, Megan who was crying softly to herself, was escorted out of the room.
'Wow!' Tom said as they left, 'I had no idea.'
'None of us did.' Suddenly feeling incredibly weary Janeway turned her attention to Jenny, who looked exactly as if she wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. 'Jenny, are you all right?'
'Yes.' The word was a whisper and blatantly untrue, but absurdly Kathryn appreciated the effort. 'I'm sorry Captain, I had no idea.'
'Jenny - no one blames you. Megan will need a lot of support now - can you do that, do you think?'
'People will hate her.' She wasn't sure she could argue with that - surprisingly it was Chakotay who answered.
'At first - but I think you'll find a lot of people will understand her feelings, if not her actions. Not because of any deep seated animosity to the Maquis, but because they've lost family and loved ones. You're both part of our community, we won't give up on you.'
'Harry,' unerringly Janeway picked on the kindest person in the room, well, after Chakotay, 'escort Jenny back to her quarters, make sure she's all right.'
They waited until Harry and Jenny left - she could see the others, keen to ask for the mechanics of her revelation. But she couldn't deal with that right now - instead in a move to forestall their inevitable questions she said, 'there will be an explanation, I assure you of that, but at the moment there are more important things that how I knew. I'd like the rest of the day to hold semblance of normality and for that I need all of you to be at your posts, doing your jobs. I'm sure it goes without saying that I don't expect the contents of this meeting to leave the room. Dismissed.'
She turned her back as the remainder of her senior staff filed out of the room, the banter they normally shared noticeably absent, leaving a hollow silence in it's place. When she turned back to look at the room she wasn't altogether surprised to see that Chakotay had remained.
'Well, that was fun,' she said quietly, dropping into the chair next to him.
'Did you know for sure it was her?' he asked, his face reflecting the weariness she felt.
'Not for sure, I knew her fiancé had been killed in a Maquis raid, that information was in her message from home, I knew we were looking for someone with a grudge against the Maquis and,'
'When I was attacked there was a struggle, I'm sure I marked the arms of whoever tried to strangle me.'
'And those kinds of marks might be difficult to explain shortly after the Captain had been attacked, unless you had been attacked as well.'
'Exactly.' Silence reigned as they both considered what had happened, both trying to find a way to move onto the next problem. 'Chakotay, about what she said.'
'She was right, wasn't she? I may not have been directly involved but I was party to those actions, I accepted the consequences of that when I joined the Maquis. If we hadn't been here I might even have been involved - that goes with the territory Kathryn, it's part of who I am.'
She had no answer to that, which startled her far more than his words. Had she accepted that part of his past so easily - or had she failed to understand his true bond to the Maquis? At the beginning it had been far easier to believe that his involvement was prompted more by a need to complete the fight his father had begun. But now their relationship was more complex, important in a different way and now she needed to acknowledge that this man had been a terrorist, a criminal, a freedom fighter. If he didn't hide his actions behind the nobility of the cause, neither should she.
'It's been quite an eye-opened, hasn't it?' His soft voice interrupted his musings, 'but I'm not sure it was entirely fair to confront us with this at this stage.'
She shook her head, his words not making sense.
'What do you mean?'
'I suppose I wish we hadn't had that timely reminder of what love can do to you, how irrational and blinded you can become.' The fact that he seemed to be implying that he loved her was somehow lost in the face of the realisation that she ought to have been concerned about what Megan's actions had shown her and constructed it into some threat to protocol, or their command relationship.
'Not everyone would behave as Megan has.'
'I realise that, but I think there's a little bit of madness in love, and I'm not sure a little madness sits well with our respective positions.' Startled, she jerked her head up to meet his eyes.
'What are you saying?'
'I don't know,' he laughed bitterly, 'but perhaps we ought to think carefully before we get involved in something we can't handle.' He didn't give her an opportunity to respond. 'I'll be on the Bridge, Captain.'
She remained where she sat - making no attempt to call him back. Minutes, hours passed and she still did not move, until a discrete cough bought her attention back to her surroundings and she realised Tuvok was standing before her.
'The Doctor asked me to remind you that you're still supposed to be off duty, he'd like you to return to your quarters.' Actually she couldn't think of anything she'd rather do.
'Fine.' If Tuvok was surprised by her ready acquiescence he didn't show it.
'It was unfortunate that Megan chose to display your past to the rest of the senior staff.'
'It was,' she agreed. Remembering the spurt of pain that she'd experienced when Megan had mentioned Justin. 'But it was a long time age, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, I'm not interested in revisiting all that guilt because of Megan Delaney.' Tuvok nodded and although she couldn't tell if it was in agreement or acceptance she was comforted by the gesture.
'Regarding the situation we discussed yesterday?' She was momentarily thrown until she realised that he was referring to her relationship with Chakotay, something else which was battered and bruised by the confrontation - had that only been yesterday?
'I'm still considering that matter Tuvok.'
'I suggest you take into account the effect of your vacillation on the Commander. I believe he needs a resolution to this more that you do, his, spirit is suffering under the strain.' Well this was new, she was having a discussion about spirit, with Tuvok.
'It's hardly my fault we've had all this to deal with.'
'I understand, I think you've both found this as difficult anyone and I've observed the Commander's propensity to blame himself, especially for matters regarding the Maquis. It would be advisable to reach a decision as soon as possible.' she sighed, knowing he was right, but deciding to be selfish and leave the matter for the following day.
The next day thanks to the Doctor's prompting and her own sudden desire to get off the ship she found herself admiring the public gardens of the Planet they orbited. Never one to do things without a purpose she had already verified that her quarry was here and now it was just a case of pinpointing his location. There.
She saw the red of his uniform first, his features becoming recognisable as she approached. Chakotay was standing on an ornate bridge which spanned a small, gurgling river. His chin was resting on his hand and she could tell by his expression that he was not paying the slightest attention to the horizon he appeared to be absorbed in.
A very small smile escaped him when he saw her, he didn't acknowledge her presence though, until she was standing next to him. 'Hello,' he said quietly.
'I'm not disturbing you?'
'No.' He had been trying to sort through a dizzying array of emotions - anger, pain, regret, guilt; but his progress had been slow and now he realised this was at least partly due tot he fact that an essential element had been missing from the process. But she was here now. 'How's Megan?'
'There's not much change - the Doctor thinks it will be a while - he's enlisted Tuvok to help, but anger, grief, we both know that feelings like that don't just disappear.' There was no disputing that fact, or the experiences she had alluded to - however obliquely. He was reminded - again of the expression on her face when Megan had raised the spectre of her own dead fiancé.
This wasn't the moment to deal with that though and he thought instead about the search of Megan's quarters he had conducted a few hours ago. There had been more letters, several to Kathryn. 'I've completed a report on security measures necessary to contain her, for now. What are you going to tell the crew?'
'That the perpetrator has been found and dealt with and that we are grateful for their support and patience.'
'Kathryn you should have been a politician.' He wasn't certain he completely understood her decision to protect Megan as much as possible from the consequences of her actions. But, she had listened to his objections and tried to explain why she thought a discrete approach was best.
'You still don't agree I take it?'
'People will figure it out.'
'I realise that - and she will be punished but I think in many ways she's already suffered a great deal. You said yourself Megan is part of our community - but we were working from an unrealistic idea of that community, assuming harmony where there are differences, real differences which don't go away because of our circumstances.'
'Like the differences that exist between you and I?'
'Exactly.' When she looked at him doubt shadowed her eyes, 'we've been as guilty as anyone of ignoring who we were before this happened.'
'I don't know, but we must face things, not hide them away, accept, forgive and ultimately move on.' Ho far she had come, he mused. Not so long ago he had thought that she had changed less than anyone, adapted less than anyone to their circumstances and of course, he understood why. But that was no longer the case, perhaps it was the contact with Starfleet, however fleeting that had freed her.
When he looked at her again he found that she was smiling at what must have been his faraway expression. 'Pleasant day dream?' she enquired.
'Very,' he made no attempt to disguise the open look of longing and her faint blush was enough for him to be sure she'd realised that he'd been thinking about her. 'I've been invited to a cultural event this evening, traditional drama in musical form. It sounds a little like opera, will you join me?' This time he was the one caught by surprise, his eyes reflecting shock at what sounded like a personal invitation - but surely wasn't.
'Good - pick me up at about 7.30, no uniforms.' Before he had a chance to clarify the nature of the invitation, she had tapped her comm badge and beamed back to Voyager.
He was awe-struck by the spectacle that the music and the voices created. It was a choir of voices, performing a play - triumphalist dramatic, totally excessive and yet somehow fascinating. Performed out of doors, with the sunset for a backdrop, he couldn't recall a time when he had been so engrossed by a piece of music. He sat completely still, huddled into something not dissimilar to an amphitheatre, afraid to breathe lest the spell be broken.
Beside him he could see that Kathryn was similarly captivated, her eyes never leaving the stage, absorbing every sound and motion of this spectacle. When it was over he almost thought he heard her sob, as though she had been holding her breath for a long time.
'Oh my,' she raised a hand to cup her cheek which was flushed with the heat of the night and so many people sitting close together. 'I wasn't expecting anything so, sensual.'
'It was certainly very powerful.' He looked at her, taking in the pale cream dress she was wearing the wrap that was thrown over her shoulder. Moments like this between them were few and far between and he was unwilling to squander this one. 'Do we have to go back to the ship?'
'No,' she smiled, a little shyly at him,' I thought we could go for a walk, talk some things over?' he agreed although he was reluctant, because on this occasion it felt final. If they really were going to have 'the talk' then he had to face the fact that her answer could well be 'no'. And he was sure he had raised that doubt in her, with a little help from Megan. He had been the one to point out the consequences of love, to suggest there was an incompatibility between that and there command roles.
Thoughts rushed past her as they joined the crowds leaving the amphitheatre all of them focussed on the need to decide finally, here and now. It was suddenly cool - away from the heat of all those bodies and she pulled the wrap tighter around her, choosing a path at random which led them among cloistered arches and buildings silent with darkness. Their footfalls were startling in this still place and suddenly fanciful she imagined that no one had trod this path for hundreds of years.
She glanced across at her companion and at last saw him as he truly was - flawed, human, a product of his past and his present. It was the first time she'd really thought of him as handsome, the first time she'd noticed his lips, his cheekbones, the curve of his brow, or at least the first time she'd allowed herself to notice.
He moved, catching her eye and she was suddenly mortified, embarrassed at being caught, her face burning hot and her pulse pounding. He looked away again and she could hear him breathing harshly, trying for control. It was some time before he turned back to her, 'Kathryn, what are we going to do about this?'
So, here they were, at an impasse, to go forward or to go back? It was up to her, she had always been the one who had first pretended not to notice and then had decided for both of them that denial was the best option. He leaned a little closer to her so that their foreheads were resting together. 'No pressure,' he said grinning, blatantly lying.
'Oh no, of course not.'
'If you say no, then I will still be your friend, still respect you and care about you.'
'And if I say yes?' She never got an answer to that, because before he could speak she raised her head and brushed her lips to his cheek, her arms curling around his neck to pull him closer.
The Croaxiants were a quiet, sombre people - reserving most of their strong displays of emotion for their arts. So, the elderly and venerable Clerk to the Ambassador was more than a little surprised to walk back to his chambers and come across a couple embracing heatedly in the shadows. But he was a wise man and he had learnt a great deal in a long career of diplomacy and two marriages - so he kept walking and only sighed a little about the folly of youth.
Acknowledgements Dorothy L. Sayers