A/N: This was the first long Voyager fic I wrote as I was re-watching the series for the first time in two decades, back in January of 2014. The whole runs to 22 chapters and about 40,000 words. I will re-post it chapter by chapter, fixing some of the editing that now, two and a half years later, makes me cringe. (It was before MissyHissy3 had become my beta.) Hope someone out there enjoys it.


Out in this desert we are testing bombs
that's why we came here.

In retrospect, she should have seen it coming.

Voyager had reached the edge of Mazen space to find a small scout ship awaiting their arrival. It had been sent from Mazen Central Command – they had heard about the ship's epic journey from traders, and wanted to welcome the travelers to their space. It was an instant relief, not just for Janeway - for all the bridge crew who heard that first communication. Mazen space was vast. To go around it would have meant adding six months to their journey. There had been little to no information available about the Mazen, who were known to be secretive, journeying outside their own borders infrequently and allowing only certain traders into their space. The Captain had been ready for a flat refusal of transit, or else a difficult negotiation. In the event, though, the Mazen were pleased to see them.

"You are welcome to Mazen space, Captain Janeway," said her counterpart with a warm smile during that very first exchange. "You will no doubt have heard that we are a closed society. For the most part, that is true, but you and your crew are welcome here. We feel compassion for your journey and its goal. Your hardships must have been many and your weariness must be great. Please – cross our space with our blessings."

It was the intergalactic equivalent of, 'Come in and make yourself at home'.

Following that first meeting, relations with the Mazen had continued to be relaxed – friendly, even. The crew was invited to take shore leave on any one of the dozen Mazen-inhabited M-class planets along their planned trajectory. Their governing ministers offered to arrange exchanges with those of the Voyager crew interested in learning about Mazen science, history and culture. Janeway herself took three blissful days to immerse herself in the complex nuances of their ingenious terraforming technology. Chakotay indulged his interest in archaeology; Torres pored all over their ship's engines; Tom went as far as to whoop aloud his delight at being invited to take the helm of one of the small spaceships the Mazen enjoyed racing for sport. Janeway did not have the heart to break his by refusing him permission to accept.

"Just go easy, Paris," she warned him. "Voyager needs you back in one piece."

"Yes Ma'am," he snapped out, utterly unable to contain the excitement that glowed from his face like a beacon.

"Honestly," she leaned over to whisper to Chakotay, "you'd think he was still fourteen."

Her first officer had chuckled and leaned toward her to whisper back, "The truth is, Captain, that all men, no matter how much they age, are always only ever fourteen."

The laugh that bubbled from her at his playful answer was indicative of their first three months in Mazen space. Voyager felt almost like a festival ship. The atmosphere was lighter, somehow. There were no predators in Mazen space – for some reason, which Seven had made it her mission to find out, the Borg had never bothered them. Violence did not seem to permeate the Mazen's borders at all.

In retrospect, she realised she should have wondered why.

For three months, they laughed and learned with the Mazen and each other. For three months, the Mazen toured every inch of Voyager, crawled into every Jeffries tube, examined every plasma coupling and data relay. It wasn't that standard Starfleet security protocols were not observed – they were, of course they were, and as rigorously as ever. But not even Tuvok believed the Mazen were a threat.

But then, months of peace, harmony and cooperation could lull anyone into a false sense of security.

"Chakotay," she began, one day, sitting in her ready room as Voyager slumbered at full stop in the orbit of a planet so marbled with blue and green that only the unknown landmasses marked it as not Earth, "Ensign Riccoletti tells me there's a restaurant in the main city of this planet that she swears has recipes straight out of Tuscany. What say you and I go and try it out tonight?"

If there was a momentary hesitation before he smiled, she didn't notice. "I'd love to, Captain, but I've actually said I'll take Seven to see some ruins I've been planning to survey before we move on. I think she'll find them interesting."

She sat back in her chair and quirked an eyebrow at him, smiling. "That's kind of you, Commander. I've been worried that she's spending too much time on the ship while we're all off enjoying ourselves. Some fresh air will do her good. Although I'd be prepared for disdain, if I were you. I'm not sure that 'ruins' are quite her thing."

Chakotay answered with a smile of his own that later, she will remember as being reserved. For a moment he gripped the edge of her desk, as if he was about to tell her something else.

"Everything all right, Commander?"

He hesitated again. "Just… sorry. That I can't make dinner."

She waved off his apology and took a mouthful of coffee. "Another time, Chakotay. Enjoy the trip."

Oh, yes. In retrospect, she should have seen it coming.

Sometimes I feel an underground river
forcing its way between deformed cliffs
an acute angle of understanding
moving itself like a locus of the sun
into this condemned scenery.

The attack, when it came, was swifter and more efficient than any she had ever encountered. There was already a crew of Mazen engineers aboard when three huge war cruisers appeared as if from nowhere. Terraforming, it became swiftly apparent, was not the only ingenious technology the Mazen possessed. They can cloak their ships so effectively that no trace emissions at all remain to betray them. They can cloak their sidearms, too, and had done so. Voyager was boarded, not with violence, but with cunning, like a pickpocket operating in broad daylight.

Prior to the appearance of the cruisers, which hung around Voyager like huge, black, calcified spiders, the largest Mazen ships the Starfleet personnel had seen were transport vessels, used to ferry passengers between the inhabited planets of the system. Janeway realised in a flash the depth of the subterfuge employed by Mazen Central Command. Voyager and her crew had been kept so busy with what the Mazen had been willing to show them that they hadn't had chance to ask what else is out there.

The attack was over, really, before it had even begun.

"We don't mean to hurt you or your crew, Captain Janeway," said the captain of the warship leading the assault. He was almost apologetic, in his own way. "We merely want your ship. You will be delivered to a habitable planet at the edge of our space. You may live out your lives there in peace."

Her rage almost stalled her heart, but that was only blotting out her self-recrimination. Neither did them any good, and they were herded from Voyager like cattle being moved from one pasture to another. The Mazen allowed them each to choose a handful of personal belongings to take with them, providing none of these constituted technology that could be in any way linked, upgraded or otherwise used to aid any kind of escape. Many took photographs and other keepsakes. Chakotay retrieved his medicine bundle. Janeway took nothing. She refused to contemplate accepting this fate. She needed to take nothing with her, for she was coming back.

She set foot on the planet with nothing but the clothes she stood up in and a fierce determination that this was not the end of Voyager's journey. The planet was dry and desiccated, orange earth littered with rock cracked by the dual suns overhead.

"You said this would be habitable," she accused their captors hoarsely. "You are leaving us here to die."

"Not so, Captain," said the Mazen commander, calmly. "Twenty lengths north of here you will find a large oasis with groves of fruit trees and plenty of land ripe for farming. The water source is inexhaustible. The land will require work, but it is ripe for the plough. Until then – make use of the limited supply of nutrition bars we will provide you with."

She put her hands on her hips to stop them reaching for his neck. She lifted her chin and stared him in the eye, but said nothing. The Mazen are not stupid. They have not risen to such elegant modes of dominance by accident. Delivering the crew of Voyager to the planet with a long walk ahead of them meant her people would be preoccupied for a time. They would have to survive before they could regroup. They had more important worries than escape and retribution.

Janeway could not bear to see Voyager lift off, and so she turned her back and began to walk. She lead her people out across the desert to search for a promised land while the only home they had had for too long abandoned them to dirt and dust.

What we've had to give up to get here–
whole LP collections, films we starred in
playing in the neighborhoods, bakery windows
full of dry, chocolate-filled Jewish cookies,
the language of love-letters, of suicide notes,
afternoons on the riverbank
pretending to be children

Chakotay caught up with her and then reigned in his long stride to match her shorter one.

"I've just done a roll call," he said, softly.

She nodded. "You're one short."

"That's right."

Her smile was a grim one, directed at the empty horizon. "Let's not get too comfortable, Chakotay," she said, her voice rasping with the anger she was holding in. "With any luck we won't be here for very long."

He fell away from her before she could glance at his face. A moment later his voice echoed out over their number, issuing orders and encouragement.

Night fell and the clear sky siphoned the heat from the atmosphere as efficiently as a leech sucking blood from a vein. Within moments it was cold, so cold. They pitched camp around a series of fires built from brushwood so dry it could not help but kindle almost instantly. They sat in twos and threes around the fires, drawing comfort from each other and giving it in return. Janeway laced her way through the group, speaking where she needed to, touching arms and shoulders where she did not. She knew Chakotay was doing the same, she could see him from the corner of her eye as he paused to crouch beside B'Elanna and offered Ensign Wildman a hand with Naomi. Janeway left him to it and huddled herself next to the fire. When he came to sit beside her later, they would begin to formulate a plan, discuss their options and the single crewman that is not with them – Neelix, who had taken the Delta Flyer II and gone in search of a certain type of fruit. It was a spontaneous request granted by she alone, and there was no reason to think that Mazen Central Command were aware of his trip. Voyager has lost so many shuttlecraft over the past few years that she hoped the Mazen's knowledge of her remaining complement was flawed. Under any other circumstance, she might hesitate to put her faith in such slim hope. But Neelix was out there somewhere with one of Voyager's shuttlecraft, and he was as tenacious as they come. She had no doubt that when he realised what has happened, the Talaxian would do his best to effect their rescue. Right then, hope was all they had.

She rubbed her hands together and held them out to the fire. A moment later she realised that Chakotay was no longer on his feet. She looked around but could not see his tall form moving between the knots of crew. But he had not come to sit with her, as she'd expected. He always has done before, just as soon as he was able. He was always there, by her side, especially in a situation such as this. Janeway looked around to see where he is, and spied him on the opposite side of the fire. She blinked, and from somewhere within, a low buzz began to sound, as if a klaxon had started up beneath the deepest part of her being, somewhere she hadn't even known existed until that moment.

Chakotay was sitting beside Seven. They were talking with some urgency, and even with the fire to divide her from them, Janeway knew how the tone of his voice would be falling against the younger woman's ear. It would be soft and reassuring, a buoy in deep waters, a light in the darkness. She saw Chakotay nod, once, as if something had been agreed upon. Then he moved again, as if to stand, but before he did he reached out, brushing his fingers over the back of Seven's hand. And Janeway knew how that felt, too. Oh, she knew.

That single, light brush of his fingers was a sucker punch that flew out of the dark like an all-out attack. It blindsided Kathryn so completely and connected so heavily with her stomach that she couldn't help but suck in a breath. Struggling to contain the unexpected, visceral pain that had torn its way into her gut, she clamped her lips together and dropped her gaze to the fire, but it was too late. Despite everything, he was still so attuned to her that he knew, instantly. He either heard the sound she made or felt it, somehow, because from the corner of her eye, across the flames, she saw Chakotay turn to look at her.

She stood, abruptly, with no other thought than to get away.

Coming out to this desert
we meant to change the face of
driving among dull green succulents
walking at noon in the ghost town
surrounded by silence
that sounds like the silence of the place
except that it came from us
and is familiar
and everything we were saying until now
was an effort to blot it out–
Coming out here we are up against it

Tuvok intercepted her as she reached the edge of their makeshift camp. She was eager not to be detained, aware that even as she walked away from the fire, Chakotay was already making for her through the crowd. Somewhere at the back of her mind, Janeway's rational self reasoned that talking to Tuvok would keep her first officer away, and in any case she had to talk to Tuvok, in fact she needed to call a briefing of all the senior officers. They needed to re-group, they needed to plan…

But at that moment, something at her very core was collapsing, and she just wanted to get away.

"Captain?" Tuvok said, his impassive face almost creasing into a frown. "I caution you against straying too far from the group. Without tricorders, we have no way of knowing what indigenous life is on this planet, or what threats it may hold."

She nodded, forcing herself to speak. "I know, Tuvok. I'm not going far. I just need to clear my head."

"Then I will accompany you."

"No," she said, with far more force than she had intended. "Tuvok – please."

He watched her with eyes too shrewd to be puzzled, and for a moment Janeway was terrified that he had seen right through her to the wound that she had no right to bear. Then he nodded and stood aside, a silent yet tacit agreement. She said nothing, moving past him as smoothly as she was able.

Janeway walked and walked until the glow of the fires behind her were merely a smudge in the dark sky. She walked until she reached a series of huge boulders that looked as if they had toppled from a mountain several times the size of Everest. They loomed out of the darkness, eternal, unmoving, and she ducked into the shelter of one, blocking out everything behind her in an attempt to block out everything before her. She leaned back against the rough rock and put one hand over her face, and then another. Part of her supposed that Tuvok has followed her at a discreet distance, and she hoped that if this is so, he had the sense not to let her see him.

Chakotay and Seven. Why did she not see that coming? Why didn't he tell her?

Why should he have?

It was the shock of it, more than anything. You were prepared for this, she tells herself, you must have been.

Even as she though it, she realised she hadn't been prepared, at all. Sure, she'd told herself that someday, Chakotay would find someone, but she realised now that she's mistaken acknowledgement for acceptance. She had never seriously considered it, because she had never let herself consider the alternative. She'd clamped it all down, locked it off. For years she'd never let herself seriously consider anything to do with Chakotay and that, it turns out, had been her undoing. Ignorance is not bliss. Not by a long shot, and what she thought she had put aside she had merely obscured from sight.

The pain, though. Where the hell had that come from? It was actually physical, as if she'd taken a disruptor blast full in the belly. Come on, Janeway, she told herself, dropping her hands from her face and trying to calm the shakes. It was never going to happen. You made sure of that. How many times had you made it clear to him? What did you think was going to happen? That he'd stay celibate for the next sixty years? That somehow the mere sight of you was enough?

But Seven. Seven?

Eyes shut, her inner darkness was suddenly pervaded by an unbelievably explicit image of the two of them. His mouth, open over her. His tongue…


His voice forced her eyes open with something like an electric shock. She splayed her fingers against the rock behind her, searching for something to grip. Chakotay was watching her warily from several feet away.

"What is it?" she asked, as if he had merely walked into her ready room.

He didn't say anything for a moment, and she could see the war going on in his mind playing out across his expressive face. This is so indicative of them, she thought, bitterly. They both knew what the other was thinking about, but neither of them would acknowledge it. They'd talk of something else, instead. They'd move the conversation on. This would fade into the background collage of every other such moment that they had shared and would not talk about, ever.

"Tuvok told me you had left the camp. Captain, it's not safe for you to be out here alone."

"I'm fine," she said. "I'll be back in a moment. We will need to call a senior staff meeting to discuss the situation." She intended her words as a dismissal, but he did not leave.

"Kathryn," he said, eventually, in the soft voice she had always thought was only meant for her. "Look…"

She held up one hand. "Don't, Commander. There's nothing more to say."

He made a sound in his throat that hovered close to annoyance. "What do you mean, there's nothing more to say? What exactly has been said?"

Her eyes flashed to his, surprised beyond measure.

"I am sorry," he said, then. "I should have known you would realise as soon as you saw us together. If I had known–"

She shut her eyes, shook her head. "Commander. There's really no need-"

"Dammit!" In a second, he was directly in front of her. "Look at me."

She opened her eyes and did so, setting her jaw in as hard a line as she could manage. He had the conscience to look abashed and moved away again.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," he said, quietly. "I didn't think…" Chakotay trailed off.

She meant to dismiss him, to send him away so that she could collect the pieces of herself together and reassemble them into something she recognised. But when she opened her mouth, the words that came out were, "You didn't think – what?"

"It's been years since we've even really spoken," he said, after a moment. "Not in the way we used to. That invitation to dinner the other day? That was the first time in… I don't know how long. I thought you were past it. I thought you were past me. I could have lived with hope, Kathryn, but I thought even that was gone. I didn't think you expected-" he stopped.

The pain in her gut suddenly coalesced behind her eyes. She blinked, trying to clear away the tears before they could take hold. She shook her head.

"I don't expect anything from you, Chakotay. I never have. You have been a better first officer than I could have possibly wished for, and as equally a good friend. And as a good friend, I wish you very happy."


"No buts."

He shook his head. "I saw your reaction, Kathryn."

She sucked in a breath and tipped her head back against the stone, raising both hands to her forehead. "You aren't the only one who needs hope, Commander, even if it's so latent that it occasionally takes you by surprise. And that's all my reaction was, I assure you. Surprise. Which I am now over. I am very happy for you, Chakotay, and also for Seven. She deserves – and is extraordinarily lucky – that her first adult relationship is with a man like you."

He said nothing for so long that she thought he had gone and straightened up, dropping her hands. He hadn't gone. Chakotay was standing in exactly the same place as he was before, and he was looking at her with such undisguised desire that Janeway felt as if he has physically pushed her back against the rock. The pain in her deeper self instantly translated into something else under his gaze, something hot and needy that knotted itself into the pit of her stomach and pulsed like a star about to go supernova.

Out here I feel more helpless
with you than without you
You mention the danger
and list the equipment
we talk of people caring for each other
in emergencies – laceration, thirst –
but you look at me like an emergency

"She deserves better than I can give her," he said, his voice quiet and more dangerous than she thought she had ever heard. "She deserves someone who isn't always, despite his best intentions, struggling not to think of someone else."

"Don't," she whispered, desperately, because he was saying what she wanted to hear and she couldn't want it. Must. Not. Want. Him.

"Don't what?" he asked, moving closer. "How can I stop doing something I have never done?"

When he got within a step of her she tried to move sideways, but he trapped her with one arm. She tried to pull herself together enough to issue an order or at least speak, but his proximity was suffocating her reason. She smelled the sweat of the long day on him and the pulse of heat inside her reacted so strongly that she was sure some sound escapes her lips, but she couldn't hear herself for the blood rushing in her ears.

When their lips met she sagged a little and he pushed one leg between hers, wrapping one arm around her as he pressed her closer to the rock, opening her mouth with his. Her hands somehow located the waistband of his jacket and her fingers found their way beneath his roll-neck and tank top until they connected with his skin. He reacted with a hiss and stroked his tongue into her mouth. She could feel his heat between her legs and found herself pitching closer to a precipice she hadn't teetered on for a very long time. Chakotay left her mouth to trail his lips down her neck to the edge of her jacket, and then he was pulling the zip down, following its progress with his mouth, trailing over the clothes beneath with breath so heated she could feel it on her skin through both layers.

Your dry heat feels like power
your eyes are stars of a different magnitude
they reflect lights that spell out: EXIT
when you get up and pace the floor

They were lucky that it wasn't at a later point they heard Tuvok's voice calling them. It really could have been much, much worse. His voice floated to the small part of Kathryn's brain that was still capable of registering something other than the pleasure of touch. Chakotay's hands had opened her jacket and found their way beneath her undershirts, the simple touch of them on her torso so electrifying that she would have cried out loud enough for Tuvok to hear if her mouth hadn't once again been occupied by his lips.

"Captain Janeway. Commander Chakotay. Can you hear me?"

They both froze against the rock, tangled among each other's limbs, staring into each other's eyes in shock. Another beat, another shout from Tuvok and whatever the spell was that has bound them both was broken. They parted, shaking and disoriented. Kathryn zipped up her jacket as Chakotay turned, tucking in the clothing she had so recently disarranged. He kept his back to her and walked away into the deep cleft between the fallen boulders. Her whole body flushed as it occurred to her that he couldn't face Tuvok in his current state of arousal without their conduct becoming instantly and completely transparent. She touched her swollen lips and ran her hands through her hair, taming its disarray.

"Here, Tuvok."

The security officer appeared a few seconds later. She clenched her fists to stop her hands shaking and forced a smile.

"Where is Commander Chakotay?" he asked. "He followed you out here. Is he not with you?"

"He is – we found this group of boulders and were conducting a basic survey," she lied, smoothly. "I had hoped that there would be caves to provide shelter, but it seems we're out of luck," Raising her voice, she shouted. "Chakotay? Are you there? Any caves where you are?"

"Here, Captain." His shout preceded the man by several seconds. He walked out of the darkness, perfectly composed. "No luck, I'm afraid. Looks like we'll be spending tonight out in the open after all."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Janeway thought there was probably some Vulcan sensibility that had already told him everything – by reading the dilation of her eyes, perhaps, or the erratic breathing that she was trying desperately to control.

"You efforts are appreciated, but not necessary, Captain," Tuvok told them. "The fires will suffice. Also, I am pleased to inform you that we have received a communication from Neelix."

Janeway started. "A communication? How?"

"Seven concealed the components of a communicator on her person. The Mazen mistook it for parts pertaining to one of her residual Borg implants."

"Seven," Janeway whispered. She was acutely aware of Chakotay, standing silently behind her.

"Are you well, Captain? You seem somewhat… disoriented."

"Yes – yes, I'm sorry, Tuvok. This is good news. Let's see what we can do with it, shall we?"

The three of them walked back toward the camp and their crewmates. Their boots stirred flurries of dust that trailed in their wake. As they moved, Janeway slowed her breathing. She looked up at the stars and forced herself to count them. She formulated speeches in her mind, she listed the names of her crew, she performed a mental diagnostic of the warp coil – anything to get her back on the right track. Anything, in fact, to fill her mind with something other than the memory of her fingers stroking the naked skin of Chakotay's back.

The first person she saw when they arrived was Seven of Nine. She was speaking with B'Elanna, the two of them leaning over a stone, on which were piled the components that may mean the difference between their lives and deaths. Janeway swallowed hard as shame suffuses her, a hot, bitter taste of guilt that rises from the pulsar that was still spinning in her depths.

Chakotay moved ahead, putting distance between them as if nothing had happened at all. Janeway saw Seven lift her head, her eyes searching him out. She didn't smile, but to the Captain at least, it's clear where the younger woman's thoughts lay. Janeway wondered what was going through Chakotay's head at that moment. She wondered, in fact, what the hell had come over the two of them - her, especially - to throw away almost seven years of the most carefully plotted relationship she had ever had. But perhaps it was inevitable. These things happen, after all. A kiss and a fumble on a desert plain after such a tense experience… it was to be expected, really, and surely nothing that could not be forgotten. She pushed away the knot that kept growing, tells herself it was worry for the situation and nothing else. She'd clear the air when they had a chance, assure the Commander that she had no intention of spoiling his prospects with Seven. He deserved to be happy, after all, and what could she offer him?

In retrospect, she thought, she should have seen this coming.

talking of the danger
as if it were not ourselves
as if we were testing anything else.


('Trying to Talk with a Man' by Adrienne Rich, collected in 'Diving Into The Wreck, Poems 1971-1972'.)