Harry Kim was no longer a wet-behind-the-ears ensign so he had no trouble hiding any surprise at finding Chakotay dressed in Maquis garb and staring at him steely as if weighing his price in latinum. But even the most experienced officer might have had problems not reacting to finding Kathryn Janeway holding Chakotay's arm with unrestrained tenderness while he continued his inspection.
Chakotay's gaze moved to Tom and for a moment something in his face betrayed a flash of hidden anger. Harry could see Chakotay smother the emotion as soon as it flared, but Timaran, the Polie's chief go-between in these kind of transactions, was often rewarded handsomely for such observations. He smiled and twisted a long-lobed ear, perhaps this would be one of those times.
"So I see you are acquainted."
Kathryn's hand tightened minusculely against the cloth of Chakotay's tunic in a futile effort to have some effect on what was to happen next, but she willed herself to stop before the movement grew. To trust Chakotay.
"I know him," said the Maquis dismissively.
Tom released his breath slowly. Thank God, it was Chakotay.
"And the lieutenant?"
Chakotay shifted his gaze back to Harry. "No, but he ought to be worth something in propaganda."
If Kathryn hadn't been standing beside him, feeling the otherwise invisible tension in the body next to hers, she might have believed Chakotay meant it.
But Timaran looked at them as if he wasn't quite so prepared to be taken in by Chakotay's act.
"But you do know this one," he asked, grabbing Tom by the scruff of the tunic's neck, causing him to stumble toward them.
"I've had my dealings with him."
"Is he Fleet?"
"Not since they kicked him out." Chakotay decided to take the initiative. Detaching himself from Kathryn, he moved closer to where the Polie held Tom. "Isn't that right, p'oocha?"
Chakotay didn't like the way Tom was holding his right arm and the limb looked a little swollen. If this was going to come down to what he thought, he would have to be careful. Tom had probably already taken a battering.
"What was he doing here, then?"
"With him you never know." Chakotay circled Tom slowly, letting the anger he truly did feel build so he could do what would be expected of him. His own fault for letting his temper flare. Letting it be seen. He took the rise of irritation and channeled it. "But he'll get what he deserves."
Tom flinched and Chakotay hoped that meant he knew what was coming next. He was being watched too closely to pull the punch and landed his fist hard in Tom's solar plexus. Tom folded in his arms, the breath knocked out of him and Chakotay found himself pushed away by an irate Harry Kim.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
One of the guards raised a shock stick and silenced the lieutenant. It took all Kathryn's strength to remain rooted to the spot she stood as she watched Tom struggle to his knees.
"Don't think you're going to get away with this, Chakotay." Tom huffed out the words with his returning irregular breaths. Damn that hurt.
Chakotay gripped Timaran's arm. "Perhaps we can negotiate in a more conducive environment."
Harry was coming to on the hard floor and Chakotay didn't want to be responsible for what might happen if the lieutenant decided to come after him again. Timaran gestured to an adjoining room and Chakotay caught his former captain's eye apologetically.
"I'd prefer she remain to . . . keep an eye on the goods."
But, rather than be annoyed that he was going to negotiate without her, Kathryn merely nodded. Better if someone kept their eye on the guards and her presence just might keep Harry from saying anything they'd all regret.
The passengers boarded the little craft silently, Chakotay holding a weapon for show that he holstered as soon as the door shut. He guided Tom to a bench and sank down next to him as he groaned.
"Gee Chakotay, did you have to hit me that hard?"
"If I'd known you'd figured out what I was going to do, I might have tried to pull the punch, but since I didn't know . . ."
"Right," said Tom, distrustfully. "Like you haven't been dying to do that ever since I got here."
"You did complicate my week considerably."
Harry sat silently on the other side of the shuttle, nursing the burn from the electrified rod. Chakotay threw a quick glance at him as he ran a scanner over Tom.
"Your arm needs to be reset."
"Yeah, I know." Tom rubbed at the swollen flesh absently.
"If I were you I'd wait until you got home, unless you want Seven to do her Doctor impression."
"Has she got one?"
"You better believe it," muttered Chakotay as he turned his attention to the passengers on the other side of the little ship.
If Tom was not completely forgiving for the sucker punch, the other two passengers looked even more daunting. "Harry, let me take care of that burn."
"If you will not let me attend to your arm, then perhaps you will let me remove the gidisk from your forehead."
Seven's relief that he was safe had almost been eclipsed by exasperation over the behavior of the man she was trying to treat.
Tom brought a hand up to touch the stylized tattoo. "I'd forgotten about that."
"It is easily removed," observed Seven, grasping his head in one hand as the other prepared to use the small laser.
"I think I'd rather keep it for a while."
"For what purpose?" queried the ex-Borg, still not releasing her grip.
"B'Elanna might find it . . . interesting. A souvenir."
Chakotay stared wide-eyed at the visitor at his door.
"You're running short of room."
Apparently feeling the repressed need to take control of something, his former captain had taken control of the sleeping arrangements. He'd wondered how long it would take before bowing to his orders would make her snap.
"You're welcome to bunk in with Seven."
"I thought I'd take a look at the captain's accommodations."
It stopped him short for moment, though, that she would want to claim the captain's quarters. Had she always been that obsessive?
"Kathryn, no matter what you think. I am not welcome in Seven's bed."
"Then I guess you'll just have to stay here."
Chakotay did a double-take as she stepped into his quarters carrying a blanket and a pillow. "I take it you're planning on sleeping here."
"I'm not sure I was planning on sleeping." Her gray-blue eyes continued to survey the room. "It looks like you."
He turned back to look at the pile of synth fur, the Indian artifacts and paintings. Piling her own paraphernalia on the couch, Kathryn took up a the smooth pelt of synth fox. "Bit odd for a vegetarian, isn't it?"
"But you won't replicate meat."
"We all have our priorities."
She lifted an eyebrow in his direction. She'd never imagined him as the sybaritic type. "Maybe we didn't really know each other," she mused, drawing another puzzled gaze from her ex-first.
"I thought we did."
"I think Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay, late of the Delta Quadrant, knew each other. I'm not sure even I know Captain Janeway any more."
A smile softened the look on her face. "You always were the romantic. Given a little more time on New Earth, I could fallen for that."
She settled in the furs, playing with the sleek softness. Chakotay's eyes were growing dark.
"Why are you here Kathryn?"
"Because I couldn't be here before. And because I probably can't ever be here again. Because I owe you that."
"You don't owe me anything. Surely I've made it clear by now you don't need to save me, Kathryn. I'm not Seven or Tom. I was whole and complete when you found me. I'll be whole and complete when you leave again."
Chakotay's eyes narrowed.
"Did you love me?"
Odd as the question was, there was no gloating pleasure in it, this seemed more a recounting of past truths than a trap to prove who would yield to whom.
"For a while, at the beginning, and on New Earth when there wasn't twelve layers of regulation between us . . . I think I did. But I knew your rules. And I moved on."
"Did you know I loved you?"
"No, you didn't."
"Maybe not in the way you'd have wanted. I was too single-minded to love anyone properly. I knew too damn much about loss to go through it again and I had a job to do. But don't think I didn't see the way you looked at me. That I didn't think seriously of programming a hologram with your specifications. Who else is the captain going to fantasize about?" She looked down at the round couch with its fur coverings. "And I didn't even know about this."
The smile disappeared. "Chakotay, I can't give you what you want, I never could, but I can give you this night. I want to give you this. I want to give us this. We left too much unsaid for too long. They say you can have it all, but I know you can't. If we'd gotten involved, there'd come a time when a decision had to be made. When a life had to be risked and what we felt for each other couldn't enter into it. I couldn't go through that again. I couldn't see another lover to his death, not and keep my sanity. Keep my ship."
"I never said your decision was wrong."
"Yes you did, silently. Sometimes when you'd look at me . . ."
"I'm sorry, Kathryn."
"No you're not, and neither am I. We'd both do the same thing again. It's time for honesty, Chakotay. I want you. I've wanted you for quite some time, but the captain had other priorities. It's up to you. We can look back on it and try to pretend it could have been something more."
She looked small and fragile on the circular couch. Had they lain in side-by-side cabins, night after night, imagining . . . This was not how he wanted it. His father would have said a gift from the Spirits might take many forms, some of them troubling. To leave and never know, or to stay and know it was only for one night . . .
Chakotay woke in the early hours, the decadence of the furs capturing his lingering heat. She still lay against him, breathing a slow, soft rhythm. Her face was relaxed and tender in sleep. Chakotay gazed at Kathryn Janeway. In a few hours the Captain would return. She would take Tom and Harry and go. He would wonder if she only did this because she knew the memory reversal would take it from her mind. But that was in the morning. Right now the night was still young.
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