Chakotay was wandering his quarters, cup of tea in hand, on the third morning after the Doctor released him from Sickbay. He picked up a sock here, a PADD there, halfheartedly tidying the mess that had developed as he ran in and out and fell asleep in his uniform the last several days. The entire crew had been working double shifts to restore and repair systems damaged by the Lysians' attack.
When he lifted the tea to his lips, it was cold. He turned to the replicator to order another and found a second cup of lukewarm tea waiting there for him. Now that he'd made his bed, he thought, maybe it would be better just to sleep on the couch again. At least his exhaustion had made it easier until now not to think of the hopeless mess he'd made of things with Kathryn. Just as the thought crossed his mind, the chime rang.
"Come in," he said automatically. It would be another distraught crewman, wanting fatherly advice about the sudden loss of an intimate relationship that had been so real, so precious. The Lysians had been wise enough to pair up nearly everyone. The pleasant distraction had kept nearly everyone quite content as Commander Addams got them just where she wanted them.
Chakotay was in no condition to give such advice, but as often happened in the Delta Quadrant, he was doing what had to be done, not what he felt qualified to do. Talk it through, he'd told them. Don't avoid each other. If the experience awakened feelings, consider exploring them. We'll be out here together a long time. This advice was fine for them. It was no good at all for him.
He was standing at the replicator calling for more tea when he heard her voice.
He stiffened, took his tea, and slowly turned around. Janeway was just inside the doors, in full uniform, hair gathered at her neck in the simpler, more convenient style he'd suggested during the few days they were together. He'd noticed her wearing it that way since their memories were restored. If that was all he got – the only little gesture that said she remembered what had passed between them – he'd take it. It would be more than he'd gotten after New Earth. He sipped his tea and returned it to the replicator shelf.
"Kathryn." He greeted her where he was, on the far side of the room. The door shut behind her.
Janeway cleared her throat, clasped her hands, then put them behind her back to stand at parade rest. "I apologize that there hasn't been time the last few days to clear the air. Here I am." She was having trouble looking straight at him, but she managed.
Chakotay hesitated, then retrieved his tea, moved to the cushions in front of the viewport and sat. "I don't know that there's much to say."
A deep breath, all the way in, all the way out. She rolled her shoulders as if preparing for exercise. She chose a spot several feet down the cushion and sat, hands in her lap, ankles crossed, turned slightly toward him, poised and controlled.
"I know there's no way for this not to be awkward," Janeway said, "but I want you to know that I will always … cherish the … experience we shared." She offered him a small, embarrassed smile.
"As will I."
Chakotay hoped for nothing. He'd been telling himself in a steady mantra since the moment he woke up in Sickbay. There was no point in hoping that their time together would be anything but a mortifying episode in her mind. His heart would wind up shattered into more pieces than he was ready to contemplate just yet. Just being in the same room with her was like a mild form of electric shock, stimulating yet painful to the core of his being.
From the moment the doctor told him that Janeway was his wife, Chakotay had embraced that reality wholly. He'd wished he remembered their wedding and imagined what their children would look like. Finding that it was another cruel Delta Quadrant lie would be his curse for a long time to come. Chakotay sat and thought these things and wondered what else they could possibly say to each other – what they could ever say to each other after this. He wished she would leave.
Janeway shifted on the cushion and swallowed. "In retrospect, I can't help but feel as if I pushed myself on you. I want to apologize for that."
"You have nothing to apologize for. I was a … willing participant." He could only hope that she'd been asleep when he woke in the night, more than once, and lay on his side gazing at her, ran a finger along her smooth cheek, and smoothed the silk of her hair against his skin, overwhelmed with the love he'd never for an instant thought to suppress. He was astonished to hear a low chuckle from the other end of the cushion.
"We weren't our normal scientific selves, were we?" she said. "I suppose we could blame it on the memory damage, but we didn't buy much else that the Lysians offered us. We questioned the mission, the means, the command team, but not the most incredible thing of all – the marriage!"
"People believe what they want to believe," Chakotay said mildly. None of this would make a difference. It was early but he'd been up most of the night. He needed a nap.
"Did you want to believe it?" Janeway asked, suddenly serious.
He wouldn't be taken so easily. "Did you?"
"Part of me wanted it as much as I've ever wanted anything," she said.
"And the other parts of you?" Because that was what counted, the Starfleet parts of her that ran the other parts every minute of every day – except when alien mind control interfered.
Janeway rubbed her forehead. "Oh Chakotay, we've been down this road before. As captain, it's - "
"A luxury you can't afford. I'm well aware. I was ready to pretend it never happened. You wanted to talk." He tried to keep the words from sounding bitter but saw in her tight face that he'd failed.
She sighed. "You're right. It just seemed impossible for us to walk away from … that, with our friendship intact."
"I'm still your friend, Kathryn," Chakotay said to his teacup.
"I'm grateful for that. I'm still your friend too."
Chakotay thought of offering her a cup of tea or coffee, of making some gesture to smooth over the raw pain sitting like an intruder on the couch between them, but he had no will to make this easier. Let her feel it. Let her feel something, as a balance to all he was feeling and would have to deny every day from now on, until the denial left a burned out blank space at his core.
Janeway took an audible breath, as if getting ready to speak, then pushed up from the couch and hurried to the door. She stood in front of it for a second, head bowed, just outside the range of the sensor that would open the door and release her into the corridor.
"I will always love you," she said, so softly Chakotay wasn't sure he'd heard correctly until she was out the door and gone.