Author: Myth and Legend PM
It can take only a moment to stop believing in yourself, but some people never lose faith in those around them. JC.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Chakotay & K. Janeway - Words: 7,242 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 12 - Follows: 1 - Published: 12-23-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3303353
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Kathryn Janeway rubbed a shaking hand across her forehead, wishing that her tremulous touch would ease the ache that throbbed in her temples. Her feet, aimless in their slow stride, led her wearily along the drab grey corridors of Voyager. Her ship was worse for wear to say the least. The bulkheads were torn away in places, exposing the brightly coloured innards. The grey carpet beneath her feet was stained with miscellaneous fluids, and the air around her seemed stale with the perpetual scent of fear.
She couldn't recall the last time she had slept. Her eyes were clogged with the grit of exhaustion and her wits numbed to stupidity by her lack of rest. Every limb felt too heavy to move. It had been over twelve hours since coffee had last scalded her lips and enticed her taste buds, and longer still since her hunger had been sated. In truth Voyager's captain was in worse repair than the ship, and Kathryn knew she wouldn't get away with it for much longer.
It had all begun a week ago. Their course had been laid in, and the crew had been alight with the excitement of another approaching Christmas. As always the family festivities were tinged with the bitterness that home was still so far away, but after years in the Delta Quadrant Christmas had come to mean something a little different for everyone. Anticipation had been sweet, and laughter and happiness rife.
It had taken only a short few moments for their luck to change and for their dangerous voyage to lurch towards the precipice of failure once again. A curt, hoarse message had cut across the Bridge, informing them that they had entered Telan space and would be annihilated as a result of their incursion. She hadn't even had a chance to speak before the first blow rocked the ship, slicing through their shields as though they were nothing more than a silk shroud.
The memory was vivid: all sharp edges and raw emotion. Flashing sparks had mingled with the noisome smoke that billowed from the consoles, and the nauseating smell of hot plastic and blood lingered in her nostrils even now. Her head throbbed in recollection of the pain that had sung on every nerve as she was thrown from her command chair to Voyager's unforgiving deck.
The shock of it had paralysed her. For one fatal split-second she had been stunned senseless, and even the wail of the red-alert klaxon hadn't freed her from the strange grip of her fear. In that moment her strength had failed her. She could not lead. She couldn't even think.
Of course she didn't need to utter a word. Her crew were strong and capable, able to turn any situation in a matter of seconds with or without the help of command. Tuvok had begun to adapt the shields and Tom had pulled the ship away from the main path of confrontation. Harry had been calling out warnings as the sensors revealed more and more ships uncloaking off their bow. They worked like a well-oiled machine, and she was as proud of them as she was ashamed of herself.
The scene had been distant to her: abstract and irrelevant somehow. She remembered struggling to her knees and shaking her head, as though she was trying to clear the uselessness from her. Instead her senses seemed to dim even further. Her hearing had failed and her vision greyed. Despite the sweat and fervour of the other Bridge crew her own flesh was icy and chilled, robbed of its vitality.
Someone had put a hand to the cut on her face, and within that touch had been the fire that she needed. The very sensation of his skin on hers had driven the strength back into her frame, filling her with the power she required to find her feet and her voice. She didn't know if any of the other crew had noticed her lapse, but she knew that Chakotay had barely let her out of his sight. He knew that it was more than she would dare acknowledge.
His touches had been frequent, almost desperate at times, as though he feared that she would slip away. Every time her strength had flagged he had been right there, ready to help her. Normally she would have reprimanded him, fearful that they were crossing the boundaries of their professional relationship. Instead she had been grateful for every gesture and relished his proximity. Now his absence was like an open wound, draining ever ounce of her fortitude as it bled.
She shook her head as the weakness returned, robbing her with its intensity. It wasn't a physical ailment, she was sure. Instead it seemed as though she had lost her mental footing and even now struggled to get a grip on it once more. A week ago she had been certain of herself and her abilities. She had been walking a wide road of command. Now she felt as though she were racing along the edge of a sword, and one trip either way would cost her everything.
In the end they had done what they could with the Telan. They had entered negotiations. Pleading words and desperate deals had been offered, but to no avail. In a vain attempt to stand their ground and ask safe passage they had found themselves desperately defending their ship against violent, hateful attacks. Bulkheads had been shorn away and rupture after rupture blemished Voyager's sleek hull. Finally they had fled. It seemed they had been running more than fighting recently, and Janeway wondered if her caution was borne of necessity or something less certain. Was it her own fear that drove her to take the safe path?
They had backtracked for almost seven days, and at every step they had met with more hostility. The Telan had allies, and they were incensed by the Federation's intrusion. Most had ignored her requests and merely opened fire, but others had attempted more subtle attacks. The crew had begun to suffer from mental instability and hallucinations, and before long paranoia was rife. The result was a broken ship and a shattered crew.
It was only a few hours ago that the space they had entered was finally deemed safe. They had sped away as fast as the engines could carry them, jumping at every sensor shadow and energy signature. Now they were free from Telan space, and finally they could find a fragment of peace as they made repairs and considered their next move.
Somehow she doubted that she'd find that same peace. Perhaps this had been coming all along, creeping up on her bit by bit, or maybe it was a sudden occurrence, taking her by surprise. Either way she knew that she was as good as finished. She had lost faith in her abilities and confidence in her decisions. The command chair of a star ship was not the place for doubts or regrets. Kathryn knew she had to be sure of every choice if she was to be certain of the path on which she led her people, and now she knew the truth.
She wasn't even sure of herself. Everything she had was poured into getting Voyager through that next light-year and now, at last, she was spent.
The doors to her quarters hissed open and she looked around, wincing at the mess in front of her. She had slept at a moment's notice wherever a horizontal surface was available, and eaten a bare few morsels when Chakotay had practically forced them down her throat. The beating the ship had taken showed in the disarray of her sanctuary, and it only served to reflect the battered remains of her own esteem.
'Lights.' A hiss of pain breached the peace as her head panged in response to the sudden illumination, and the computer modulated the intensity at her demand, plunging the rooms into a gentle twilight.
The bed was unmade and the clock was leaning precariously to one side, shaken loose by Voyager's trials. A pot plant had spilled its soil onto the carpet and old uniforms, some torn, some bloodstained, lay abandoned on the floor where she had stripped them from her skin in loathing. Even her books had been shaken from their shelves and lay with their covers splayed on the carpet. They looked like broken birds, their pages crumpled and torn like delicate feathers plucked from flesh.
With a quiet groan she crouched down, ignoring the pounding in her head as she set about putting her quarters to rights again. The simple act calmed her. The uniforms were recycled without a thought, and she stripped the bed with quick, hasty motions, replacing her sheets with a fresh set. It wasn't much, but with every action she felt a little closer to normal.
Gently she recovered the books, smoothing crumpled pages and stroking the rough covers absently, as though she were soothing a child. Each was well read. In the beginning she had turned to those stories for solace, but as their journey continued she felt more like a desperate heroine from the pages of a novel that a star ship captain. Often she found herself feeling more at the whim of some omnipotent being than under her own control.
Absently her mind drifted to Q, but she smothered the thought hastily in case it summoned his unwanted presence. She simply couldn't face that now. Mercifully no flash of light announced an unwelcome visitor, and instead her quarters stayed stark and dim. A perfect reflection of their owner, she thought bitterly. Barely human.
With an irritated tut at her own self pity she picked up the last book, frowning as several bits of paper slid to the floor. She set the book on the coffee table and crouched down, ignoring the warning throb in her head as she picked up the first. The script on it was childish, and poor doodles of holly and other Christmas symbols decorated the margin.
A laugh that almost bordered on a sob escaped her lips as she read the text. The grammar was poor, and in places the spelling was nonsensical, but she recognised the small missive. It was the first letter she had ever written to Santa Claus. Even then it was clear she had been her father's daughter. Phoebe wanted a pony; Kathryn wanted a spaceship.
The memory of Christmas spice and the artificial pine fragrance her mother had bought to add a touch of something special to the festive air was crystal clear. The tang of mince pies burst onto her tongue, and she remembered watching from a frost-patterned window for her dad's return. She hadn't understood why she had to write the letter to Father Christmas on paper, but she had followed her mother's instructions anyway.
It was only when she left for the academy, years later, that her mother had found it tucked away. On some impulse, perhaps as one last nod to the childhood that she was leaving behind, Kathryn had kept it. It had been an annual tradition. Even when they were too old to believe in Father Christmas she and Phoebe had continued writing the strange letters, making outrageous requests or practical guides for their relatives to replicate from.
The first memory was cloudy from the unfocussed perception of a child, but it was warm and safe. With it was every hint of sanctuary that home had to offer. She wished she could cling to it, but the delicate recollection had already succumbed to a darker time.
She had written letters to the figurehead of Christmas every year, even throughout the academy. Most had been put in the bin, but she had kept one other. It was the last she had written, and now it seemed like a lifetime ago. She reached for it hesitantly, knowing she had placed it neatly between the pages of the book with the first. In a way she didn't want to re-read it, or to re-live those moments, but it was inevitable. She could never read one Christmas letter without acknowledging the other.
The handwriting was neater, but awkward, like someone more used to using electronic devices than a pen. The spike of each letter was a thorn on the page, angry and wild. The star date showed that she had written it the year that Justin and her father had been killed, and all her pain and desperation had gone into that request. There was no promise of goodness, and no bargaining. It was a demand, not a negotiation.
'I want one more chance.'
One more chance to make the right choice, rather than remain paralysed and lose them both. It was as though her heart had screamed that wish onto the page, but it was impossible.
The first letter was a keepsake. The second was a bitter reminder that wishes did not come true.
Wearily she slumped onto the couch, feeling a fraction of the tension ebb away as her body was cradled by the Starfleet issue cushions. With the creak of weary joints and a quiet groan she stretched out her legs along the sofa, reclining on the seat. Every muscle throbbed in harmony with its neighbour, making her body pang with pain and stress.
Her mind was too active to sleep and she felt her eyes lose their focus as she stared vacantly at the ceiling. Thoughts spun in a frantic waltz as she breathed steadily in and out, trying to find solace in the simply functions of her body: one gasp of breath, one heartbeat, one mind and one voice.
Out here, a lifetime from her home world, there was no one to believe in except herself. Even Starfleet couldn't reach this far and, try as she might to uphold the rules, Kathryn knew that she was breaking them one by one. It didn't seem to matter if the regulations were carved in stone or merely a guideline; they had succumbed at least once during the past seven years.
Even the suggestions on fraternisation had flexed when it came to other members of her crew. She was the one who had torn them from home and family. How could she deny them the simple happiness of love at a time like this? What right did she have to demand they put their lives on hold for the duration of their voyage?
Yet she had denied herself that same right to love another. Solitary and confined she tried to find a way to validate her decision, but there was nothing to offer her comfort. She had become a martyr to her own cause, and try as she might she didn't have the strength to carry on.
Previously she had been able to put her personal thoughts aside. If she took pride in her role as Captain Janeway then she could ignore the failings of Kathryn. Now, when there was no pride to be found, her anger at her failure turned inwards, raining disapproval on every aspect of her life. What was left? Her future was emptier than the space that stretched between here and Earth. At least out there stars shone like diamonds or raged in their dying days. In eternity's embrace the stars had their passion. She had none of that.
Her hand slammed into the cushion as she forced herself to her feet, pushing away her exhaustion by the strength of her will. This was doing her no good. She could chase her thoughts in circles until she as insane, and the self-pity would still haunt her. Regrets were all well and good, but they did not exist to create misery. Like any mistake a regret was a sign of a lesson to be learned, and she was damned if she was going to limp back to the Alpha Quadrant a shattered woman.
A quick glance at the chronometer told her that only a few hours remained until Christmas Eve became Christmas Day, one melting into the other in the silence of the night. There was still time, just.
With a snappy command she replicated a pen and a piece of paper, grateful that at least the replicators had enough strength for that simple task. A sense of purpose, focussed and clear, had gripped her. Clumsy fingers manipulated the pen, scribing the star date before beginning to outline her requests.
She did not block out any memories, but embraced them all alike as she listed everything she could wish for. They ranged from a simple hot bath to the appearance of a wormhole straight to the Alpha Quadrant. Some were esoteric and others intangible, but with each item she felt a stronger sense of self. How long had it been since she had really thought about what she had wanted? How long had it been since she had taken a moment to be purely selfish?
The second piece of paper was half-filled by the time she wrote the last item. The letter "C" curved fluidly, leading her pen into the other syllables before one final period brought her endeavour to an end. Kathryn read her last wish once more, biting her lip to see it written so clearly on the paper. It seemed so permanent: a truthful acknowledgement of her needs. She almost crossed it out, but forced her pen to remain still. Finally Kathryn nodded in satisfaction, signing her name clearly and resisting the urge to include her rank.
The logical side of her was tempted to sneer. This was the childish behaviour that Phoebe was more likely to indulge in, but it was clear that she couldn't survive by meeting the needs of other people alone. She had to listen to herself once in a while, even if it was under the guise of writing a letter to Father Christmas.
Carefully she set the letter aside, treating it as though it were made of spun glass. In a way she could see that it was precious. The mundane paper had become the guardian of her desires. Words she could not speak aloud graced the rough surface, and to her it held more significance than anything else in her possession.
A gentle tap on the door echoed in the room. It was a hesitant sound; as though the person beyond was loathe to disturb the calm of the captain's sanctuary. Kathryn flinched visibly before she came to her senses. If anyone wished to tell her of another threat to Voyager they would use the comm. system. Only one person would intrude on her solitude at a time like this, and she welcomed it.
'Come in, Chakotay.'
The doors parted with a sibilant whisper and Chakotay stepped in, squinting in the gloom. 'I didn't think you'd be asleep yet.' There was the barest hint of disapproval in his voice as he entered the dusky quarters, and Kathryn couldn't stop the small smile that flirted on her lips.
'Checking up on me?'
Chakotay didn't answer but his grin spoke for him, dimpling his cheeks with its mischief. Janeway, however, frowned in concern. She didn't need the light to see the drag of exhaustion on his face. His broad shoulders were slumped and shadows rested under his eyes. There was also a hint of stubble on his chin, and the sight of it was so unusual she found her hand clenching to resist the urge to brush her fingers along his jaw.
'I left Tuvok with the Bridge. He seemed to think that I was losing my edge.'
'I wonder what gave him that idea.' She grinned, imagining Tuvok's collected request for the commander to get some rest. It didn't matter that she and Chakotay out-ranked the Vulcan; any of his suggestions made them feel like scolded children. 'Sit down before you fall down,' she said gently, brightening the intensity of the lights to a less intimate setting.
The couch gave a comfortable sigh as Chakotay settled on the cushions, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. He knew as well as she did that he was not there in the capacity of first officer. There was no stiffness in his demeanour and no professional restraint, and she had to admit that it warmed her cold and tired being to see him so trusting of her.
'I think I need something a little stronger.' His voice scraped over the words, and she had to agree with him. Even the bite of coffee didn't seem quite right, and she felt her mood lighten as an idea came to her.
'Mulled wine? It is nearly Christmas, after all.'
Chakotay opened his eyes and regarded her steadily before nodding in agreement. He didn't tend to celebrate Christmas, but the majority of the crew regarded this time of year with a warm heart. Over the years they had turned the festive season into something more personal and private to them, and there was hardly a soul who didn't share the celebrations with their ship bound "family".
'It's been a bit of a non-event this year,' Chakotay said gently as the replicator hummed into life, filling two mugs with steaming spiced alcohol.
'I'm sure we'll manage. I have no doubt that Neelix is already planning a party, and it's not like the day's completely passed us by.'
The dark-haired man accepted the cup she held out for him, watching her with a grave expression. 'The crew might manage, but will you?' He didn't take his eyes from hers as she looked down at the mug in her hand. The fluid shone a rich burgundy, and the steam coiled into the cooler air of her quarters. With a tense movement she took a sip, letting the spices explode on her tongue and the warmth spill down her throat.
'I'll get there.'
Chakotay's eyebrows rose a fraction and his gaze darkened with concern. He had been bracing himself for her usual denial, and instead had found defeat. His weary muscles had tensed under his uniform: she could see it pulling across his shoulders, and she regretted her thoughtless admission. She should have pretended that nothing was wrong and carried on with her life, but that was a coward's way. Simple ignorance would not let her rest in a cradle of bliss.
The click of Chakotay's mug being set on her coffee table seemed strangely loud in the quiet room, and when she looked at him he was holding a hand out for her expectantly. She hesitated, unsure when the boundaries she had so carefully drawn had vanished. Had he been pushing them bit by bit all along? Or had they simply melted away, irrelevant?
Her eyes hesitated on the paper that still rested on the dining table and she remembered her last wish. It had been the deepest, most heartfelt of them all, and with a steely resolve she knew that it wasn't going to be given to her. She had to take it for herself.
Chakotay smiled gently when she wrapped her cool hand in his, letting him guide her to the seat at his side. He didn't let go of her fingers, and she was soon familiar with his gentle touch. There was barely any pressure there. No imprisoning grasp or restraining sensation, merely strength.
'You never did tell me what happened on the Bridge when we met the Telan,' Chakotay said softly, his jaw setting into a stubborn line. He had asked before and she had fobbed him off with vague excuses, but this time she could see he wouldn't stand for it. Stubborn man.
Very gently she eased her hand from his, wrapping her fingers around the cup and taking a fortifying gulp. It burned all the way down, but it wouldn't hurt as much as admitting what had happened. In the silence of her mind it was an unconfirmed fear. To tell him was to believe it, and with all her heart she wished it didn't need to be done.
Yet if she didn't tell him… If she didn't tell him then she wouldn't make it back to the Alpha Quadrant alive, and perhaps the crew wouldn't either. Her state of mind would kill her piece by piece until there was nothing left to truly keep going, until her will wasn't even an ember in the ash.
'I gave up.' The words fell from her lips, bitter on her tongue. She wished she could spit them from her forever, but they hovered in the air in grim testament. 'I don't have the strength to get this crew through a lifetime of this,' She gesticulated vaguely out of the window at the streaming stars, 'and that's all I have to keep me going: the promise that I'd get them home.'
He didn't deny it. She knew that he couldn't. He knew that getting the people on board Voyager back to their families was her number one priority. He had stood at her side as everything else lost its importance. Hell, he was the one that had to force her to look after herself. Even living had taken second priority to that vow.
She tried to read his expression, looking for the same censure in his face that she felt raging within herself. Her body was conflicted by self-pity and self-anger, but it was as if she had told Chakotay what he already knew. The understanding in his eyes was tinged only with fear, and she deeply suspected it was fear for her own well being, rather than that of the crew.
'You still got us through it,' he reminded her gently, speaking more urgently as she shook her head adamantly. 'Yes, Kathryn. You still made the right decisions, and you still tried all the possibilities.'
'Because there was no other choice.' Chakotay took her hand again and leaned towards her. She could feel the warmth of him, and the familiar comforting scent of him brought her back from the brink of utter despair.
'That first day I did nothing. I lay on the deck, and if you had been waiting for a command we would have all died. If it hadn't been for the training of the crew our journey would have been over.'
'And who gave us that training? Who gave us this environment where we're all free to do what we know is best?' Chakotay grasped her arms gently as though to force some sense into her. 'You.'
She looked away, her body chilled to the point of shivering despite the environmental controls. His right hand moved from her arm and he traced a finger down a scab on the side of her face, near her hairline. It was a small injury she hadn't had a chance to heal, but the touch was like a shock of warmth going straight to her core. She leant towards it unthinkingly; it was an anchor to the vitality she felt was draining from her with every breath, and it was as though her existence depended on holding onto that sensation.
In a way she wished the tears would come. Instead she sat there, distant and icy as Chakotay tried to get through to her with soft touches and silent compassion. He didn't have any words, and she knew that he didn't need them. Even now he was soothing her and bringing her back to rationality, but it just wasn't enough to stop her dark thoughts.
She could try to find her faith in her own abilities again, but what if it was all a mask? What if in the end it was only an artful deception that led them to their deaths?
'The crew needs another captain,' she said in a dead voice. The silence went from comfortable to leaden, and she could feel the punch of Chakotay's instant denial. No torrent of words escaped from his lips though, and once again she was amazed at his control.
His hand, shaking slightly now, moved from the small wound to her chin. The pressure forced her to face him again, and she winced at the pain in his expression. 'Kathryn, this crew doesn't need anyone but you. You can't pass this job on to someone else.'
That hurt, the suggestion that she was trying to wheedle her way out of it, but it was something - anything to reach through the deadened gloom that surrounded her and stir the fire within her again. She felt her ire rise and pulled away, getting to her feet and setting her mug aside as she began to pace fretfully. Chakotay watched her for a moment before continuing. 'They don't need a captain; they need you. Do you think that they are so selfish that they can't understand your need to be human?'
'Of course not.'
'Then why won't you let anyone see anything except "the captain"?'
'That's ridiculous!' She threw her hands up, shaking her head in disbelief even as she privately acknowledged the truth in his words.
'Is it?' Chakotay asked quietly, leaning back into the sofa and taking a gulp of the cooling mulled wine. 'B'Elanna admires you as a captain and an engineer, but she wishes you'd socialise with the crew. Tom knows he owes you his happiness, and wants you could find some of your own a little closer than the Alpha Quadrant. Harry's seen you fight and would bet on you any day, but he still knows you can lose sometimes. He thinks you shouldn't be ashamed of that.' Chakotay hesitated a moment. 'Tuvok wishes he'd never told you to be more logical.'
Kathryn stood frozen to the spot, staring at him in horror. Had he asked her senior staff what they had thought of their captain, or had they confided in him over the years? Her lips quivered with words she couldn't articulate and denials that couldn't find an escape. Finally she managed to stutter, 'Vulcan's don't have regrets.'
'They have concerns, and so do I.' Chakotay got to his feet carefully, like a man approaching a cornered animal that might pounce at any moment. 'I'm worried that by the time we get home Kathryn will be gone and all anyone will see is the captain. I'm afraid that if I reach out you'll turn away, but if I don't we'll lose you forever – I'll lose you forever.'
His admission was quiet, almost to himself, but the words were beautiful to her ears. It was a ray of hope: warm sunlight on the frosted chill of her heart. The walls of her resolve seemed to falter and she slumped, wishing she had the strength to speak her heart to him. Instead she had no voice and could only watch him with desperate eyes.
Chakotay's sigh was pained, and with stiff movements he turned away. 'We both need sleep,' he said quietly. 'I'm only making things worse.' He hesitated as though he were unwilling to leave her. She wished he would reach for her, would take her in his arms and soothe all her problems away, but it was impossible. Finally he murmured, 'Goodnight, captain.'
She stifled a flinch at the sudden distance, but recognised it for what it was. Chakotay was trying to restore those lost barriers, to give her the sanctuary of her command. At another time she may have been thankful for it, but this was now. The reminder of her rank was like salt in an open wound and she gritted her teeth, for the first time in her life loathing her status in the crew.
The doors slid shut behind Chakotay leaving nothing but the ticking of the clock to mar the silence. It was a steady rhythm and she found herself pacing to its beat. Chakotay thought he hadn't been helpful, but he had shown her that the concerns weren't just her own. Her crew had noticed the difference and worried for her. Not as their captain, but as their friend. They thought that Kathryn defined her rank, but at some point the role had reversed, and her command of the ship had taken control of her life.
With a sharp movement she marched towards the doors, not waiting for them to slide open fully before she slipped through. Exhaustion had faded to a steady ache, and her mind and body sizzled with a new, desperate energy. The corridors were practically deserted and she reached Engineering with no more than one or two meetings. If her crew were surprised to see their captain it didn't show on their faces, and she didn't bother to dwell on it.
She couldn't sleep and she couldn't stop her thoughts. She didn't have the ability to solve her own problems, but she had her hands and the tools to fix the damage to Voyager. Maybe in that she would find some peace.
It was a steady, painful job, requiring finite precision and a stubborn mood. The ship seemed to resist her initial attempts, but after a while she settled into a rhythm of isolation, repair and reconstruction. Nearby force fields shivered, holding back the deathly cold of space from the fragile vessel.
Chakotay's words kept coming back to her, alternately warming and chilling her. He didn't want to lose her, but he thought it was possible. He could see that she was teetering on the brink, and it was that acknowledgement which made her really believe it herself.
She paused what she was doing, wiping her hand on her uniform trousers as she thought about it. At the beginning of this journey she had immersed herself in the role of captain, living for it. That couldn't work forever. To rely so wholly on one thing, one role, to define you – that was suicide.
If all she had was being the captain on Voyager then how would she ever find any happiness back on Earth? If commanding this ship defined her then who would she be without it?
It was that simple, and she knew what she had to do. She had embraced the demands of the commanding role so eagerly, but now it was time to do the same to Kathryn's needs. Somewhere there was a balance between the two, and she would find it.
There was no sudden impulse to rush off. It was not, when all was said and done, a blinding flash of inspiration. She simply asked herself, her true self, what could be done to make life more complete.
When the answer came she felt the part of her that retained command twenty-four hours a day give a resigned sigh, as though it were losing a battle it didn't really want to fight. The fire in her didn't need to be anger, or strength. It could be something more gentle, but far more powerful. Love had been within her all along, unfed and un-rewarded. Now perhaps it was time to acknowledge it.
'Well, I suppose I should break the last rule,' she murmured to the bulkhead that she was repairing as she smoothed the last fraction into place. The rumble of Voyager's engines was a constant beneath her palm, and she gave a crooked grin. Now that her mind was made up to take the first step her past reticence seemed foolish. Did she think that what she did would really have such a dramatic affect on the crew? Had she really believed that the world began and ended with what Starfleet had to say?
With care she tidied away the repair kit and made sure that her work wouldn't cause B'Elanna to have a fit in the morning. It lacked grace, perhaps, but it was a solid mend: another hurt healed.
Her return to deck three was careful. Nothing rushed her steps as she carefully considered her options. Was he really the answer to all this? Could she find her way back to her old self so easily? No, of course not. This was not a magical cure for all her ills, but it was a step on the right path. If Chakotay turned her away, or said it was too late then so be it, but Kathryn had to know what the answer was.
Doubts whirled in a mad concerto in her mind, giving her a hundred reasons why she shouldn't expose herself to him so readily. She was being reckless. She was at her lowest ebb and it was making her throw caution to the wind. If he rejected her then how would she work with him? If he opened his arms to her then how could their professionalism be maintained?
Yet there was one belief she did have: it was worth the risk. There could be no doubt on that score. He had told her day by day in so many ways that he could be relied upon, trusted and loved. He would not take her from her duty, nor would he blur the line between intimacy and professionalism. She just hadn't been listening.
Looking up with a start she realised that she had reached deck three. Her quarters stood a little to the left, and she had stopped in front of his door.
One deep breath, two. Her heart accelerated; exhilaration and fear mixing in a volatile cocktail of emotion. Her hand froze before she could knock and she pulled away.
Failure, an inner voice mocked.
Janeway ignored it, turning to her own quarters instead. He would be sleeping, and she wasn't going to disturb him to set her own mind at rest. Disappointment flooded her, but she ignored it. Tomorrow she would ask him, and tomorrow she would have her answer. It had waited all these years. A little longer wouldn't do any harm.
The doors hissed open in front of her and she froze on the threshold, looking into her quarters in surprise. The lights were still dim, but it was enough to see him by. He had his back to the door, his palms braced on the main table as he read a piece of paper in front of him.
The letter she'd written. Shame and anger rushed through her, locking her in a tangle of uncertainty that she couldn't express. Part of her wanted to yell at him for intruding on her privacy so readily, but another part was gratified that he felt it was his place to do so. Besides, if she was in the same position she knew without a doubt that she would be there, reading the missive just as intently as he was at that moment.
He hadn't heard her come in, and she moved forward with the lightest step she could muster. 'I thought you were sleeping.'
There wasn't a guilty jump of surprise. He simply looked at her, trying to gauge her reaction. 'I couldn't. I was looking for you and thought I'd wait until you got back.'
She swallowed around the constriction in her throat. Panic choked her while the words that had languished so long in silence longed to be said. It was easier to hold it all back than face the consequences. Easier to ignore it and let the moment pass, but she wouldn't do the easy thing. Not anymore.
She moved to his side, looking over his shoulder at the list on the table. He pointed to the last word that she had neatly scribed only a short while before, the questions burning in his eyes.
'Kathryn?' His voice was barely more than a whisper, husky and rough, sending shivers along every nerve. He was close enough to touch, and it took only a heartbeat to close the fractional distance between them.
She braced her hand on his shoulder and tipped her chin up, closing her eyes as she brushed her lips against his. The whisper of sensation was electrifying and she felt herself tremble with the strength of it. She had always known that to accept the passion she had for Chakotay would make it almost impossible to turn back, but now she couldn't understand how she had managed from day to day in such an existence.
Fear was like a dose of cold water as Chakotay put a hand on her shoulder, breaking the kiss. Instinctively she went to back away, gasping in surprise when he looped an arm around her waist, holding her fast against the hard planes of his body.
'No, Kathryn.' His face was flushed and his eyes impossibly dark. Every word sounded like it was wrenched from a distance, as though he were trying to overcome the instinct to claim her once and for all. 'I need to know that this isn't just for tonight, or just for now.'
She bit her lip, forcing herself to make the conscious decision to move forward rather than shrink back. 'This isn't for the ship, or for you, Chakotay. It's for me, and it's not just for tonight.' It wasn't about saying the right thing, but about telling him the truth. He had to know that this couldn't possibly be for just one day.
Chakotay's breath left him in a rush of relief, and she realised that he had been locked with fear that he would have held her, only to be forced to let her go again. 'Why now?' he asked quietly, unable to believe that she could finally be turning to him so completely. 'Why now?'
'Because I can't just be the captain, not anymore. I've got to have more to my life than getting this ship back to Earth. It just took me this long to realise that there's not going to be a quick way home, and I can't put my life on hold indefinitely.' Her voice hitched awkwardly at the thought of another seven years in desperate isolation and she felt his embrace tighten around her.
'Thank you,' Chakotay whispered quietly, tilting her chin upwards with gentle fingers and kissing her deeper and more passionately than before. His stubble brushed against the skin of her cheek and she trembled at the sensation. There was nothing to her but the man in her arms and the warmth beneath her questing fingers. All she knew was his touch, and the final certainty that she had finally found her way home.
Distantly the clock struck midnight, leading Christmas Eve into Christmas day with the gentle chime of bells as beyond the ship's windows the star streaked past like snowflakes pinned on velvet.
And Kathryn's wish came true.