Back in her quarters, Janeway set the raptor talon and the small stone blade on a shelf. Of all the mementos she had collected in the Delta Quadrant, those two looked the most out of place against the clean straight lines of Starfleet-issued furniture.
Her mind went back to the young aliens who had given her the claw, wondering how they would fare back on their home planets, and wishing them well. As for her, she was back on her beloved ship where she belonged as surely as raptors roamed another time and another world.
She looked around her, at the grey dull walls, the soft carpet underneath her hard constricting boots, the neatly made bed. The air smelt of nothing. A low humming droned under her feet. The porthole opened onto a lifeless void streaming past.
She shrugged off the unsettling feeling that clung to her like tropical heat. The rubber ball the Doctor had given her fell out of her unresponsive fingers. Re-learning to use her dominant hand was going to take some time the EMH had said before discharging her in the morning with a few brisk words. Before leaving sickbay, she had sat at Seven's bedside for a few minutes. The young woman was still sedated, but her breathing was steady and the Doctor was certain of a full recovery within a couple of days.
It could all have ended so badly, Janeway thought. A few more hours on the planet, the Baxial delayed, the new Prime Elder a lesser leader of her people, and death would have caught up with Seven. Nothing she could have done would have prevented those events from unfolding.
And what about next time? She always struggled with the implications of that question, but it was her duty as Captain to ponder its meaning. The situation, the timing, the nemeses would be different of course. But it would still result in people lying injured or dead in sickbay, and their closest friends standing haggard and lost.
Restless, she decided to go and talk to Neelix. The least she could do was thank him for risking his life and ship on a daring rescue mission. Then she would go to the bridge. 'Light duties only' the EMH had ordered. A few hours in the captain's chair while the ship was going through a quiet stretch of space qualified as light duties in her opinion.
"Captain. I wasn't… Please come in." Chakotay waved Janeway in his quarters, noticing she was not in uniform. That made his boxer shorts and T-shirt less incongruous but did not answer his question. Why was she here?
"I don't want to intrude on your evening Chakotay, but I need to talk to you. I've brought a bottle of Antarian cider. Replicated I'm afraid. I seem to have accumulated a few extra rations while I was…away."
He had not seen her since spending the night watching her sleep, the scars of two weeks in the wilderness fading away from her body.
Early in the morning, Tuvok had asked him to deal with some maintenance issues on Deck 15 while the bridge was being completely overhauled. He had thought the timing odd but the Vulcan had probably grasped the opportunity to undertake some long overdue repairs while Voyager was waiting for the Baxial. Between the maintenance schedule and doing errands for Engineering at Torres' insistence, Chakotay had been kept busy the whole day.
Janeway sat on the edge of the couch behind the small lounge table. He replicated two glasses and served the drinks, waiting for her to make the first move.
In his opinion, the EMH should have kept her in sickbayfor one more day at least. She was so thin and still could not use her right hand, another reminder of what she had gone through.
"I need to apologise to you, Chakotay. Neelix had a go at me this morning in the mess hall in front of half the gamma shift about the impact my disappearance had had on the crew," she said.
"Early this afternoon, Tom came in the ready room and sounded like his father disciplining a Cadet, telling me I had been irresponsible. Then B'Elanna stopped the turbolift we were riding together to Engineering and just looked at me."
Kathryn lifted her head, a bewildered look on her face. "She wasn't angry. At least, not her usual Klingon-angry. She said Seven had wanted me to know that she was disappointed that I thought throwing away my life was an effective way of dealing with Voyager's problems. Her words I believe."
Chakotay shuffled on his seat. He could not agree more with what Kathryn had been told.
"She said, B'Elanna said, that she agreed. That I was being selfish, keeping my decisions to myself, closing off everybody. I am sorry. I wanted to apologise to you first and—"
He refilled her glass. "Apologies accepted."
That threw her off. She looked at him with blue eyes wide open. "But I still don't understand why..." she stammered.
Chakotay felt his own emotions rise as he watched her flounder. He had been too easy on her, letting her have her own way for too long. His role was not to support all her decisions but to let her know when and where she went wrong. The whole business with the Voth could have so easily ended in disaster.
He had no idea what the senior officers of this ship had been up to but he had an inkling they were as fed up with her reckless behaviour as he was. This was another cue for him to intervene instead of sitting at her side like a well-heeled poodle. Captain or no captain, he had to stop her.
He did a double take. The bottle of cider and a blue dress hinted strongly that she did not want the Captain present, the one always in control. The qualities of the woman were what made her such an exceptional leader, but this evening the two were clearly separate. Maybe she was ready to listen to him.
"They are angry at you because you choose to sacrifice yourself once again to save Voyager. Not that you thought you had much choice at the time, I'll give you that. But you don't realise the effect your decision had on all of us. Neelix, Tom, B'Elanna, Seven, myself. I am sure the whole crew would join the club if you were to ask their opinion."
She kept still, stunned by his bluntness. She remembered the ripple of nodding heads in the mess hall at Neelix' sermon, the sadness in B'Elanna's eyes. Even Tom had looked incensed when he had come to see her. Now she thought about it, it was a bit strange to get berated by the one and only Tom Paris. What was it with Voyager's senior officers? What did they want of her?
"What am I supposed to do? Ask permission? Let Voyager be boarded and the crew taken prisoner without trying to find another way? I am the Captain. My responsibilities don't come with much personal leeway, contrary to what everybody else seems to think." She stood, pacing the room.
"You are the Captain. But that's not the only person you are. People care about you, Kathryn Janeway, and somehow, it seems you are frightened out of your wits that if they do, you'll become weak and vulnerable. Or you will find yourself suddenly incapable of giving orders. Or the whole universe according to Starfleet will disappear into a black hole. So you push us away."
That was getting ridiculous. What else could she do? A Starfleet Captain was responsible for her crew last time she looked, not the other way round, even if she so desperately yearned sometimes for somebody to be there for her too.
Speaking of whom...
"Tom made a mention of your command decision to rescue me," she said in what she hoped was a stern enough voice. "And B'Elanna and Seven," she added, suddenly realising she was imparting a very narrow focus to the whole discussion.
"My report will mention that it was indeed my decision, supported by all the bridge officers present. You've said it yourself often enough. We are a family. You can't stand apart from your family and expect them to do nothing, feel nothing when you disappear." Chakotay answered.
"You need to understand Kathryn," he added with a sigh. "They were very close to be grieving the death of a caring and remarkable woman. They consider you as a friend, not just their Starfleet-imposed CO."
Kathryn sat down. "I said something very similar to Seven while we were rafting down the river. How we would be missed by our friends and how we would miss them," Janeway murmured, tears threatening to spill over the dam that usually kept her emotions well in check.
"My feelings exactly," Chakotay said.
He moved closer and took hold of her injured arm. She looked down at her hand as if it was a foreign appendage. He caressed the cold palm and saw her fingers react slightly to his touch.
"I can't tell you how terrified I was when I thought I'd lost you, Kathryn," he said, massaging her motionless fingers one by one.
She just sat there, absorbed by the gentle sensations of his warm fingers against her skin.
"I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I'd done nothing and abandoned you." He moved his attention to the inside of her wrist. A shudder went through her as he caressed the faint scar running along her forearm.
Something broke inside her. She closed her eyes, letting the cider and Chakotay destroy the last remnants of self-control she possessed. "Oh, Chakotay. I can't.. I won't.. I…" She rested her head on his shoulder, feeling the warmth of his body.
"What are we going to do?" she whispered.
They did not finish the bottle.
Chakotay left the bedroom as silently as he could, picking up his clothes from the floor. He discarded the drinks still sitting on the table and got thinking about the Doctor discharging the Captain from sickbay way too early. A bridge suddenly unavailable the day she was back on duty leaving her with little to do except reflect on what might have happened. A second-in-command kept busy in the bowels of the ship so she would be alone for hours on end. Three senior officers tearing into her that very same day when she would be most vulnerable.
Happenstance? he asked himself, his unease increasing. Not on this ship. Not with this crew.
He needed to know for Kathryn's sake. Because if she got an inkling of what he thought the officers had been up to, hell would have no fury like a Starfleet Captain smelling even a whiff of coercion.
Frowning, he considered how to get the information he was after without picking a fight with his senior crew, a fight he might not want to win.
Tom would see through him in two seconds and put on his usual all-knowing smirk on. He needed more ammunition before tacking Voyager's pilot.
Tuvok would point out some obscure regulation detailing the maintenance program of Intrepid-class starships. He would never win a staring contest with the Vulcan.
B'Elanna would just kill him. He could handle an angry Klingon, but she was past being angry at Kathryn, and therefore even more dangerous than usual.
Neelix. Nice guy, Neelix, but he was not looking forward to talking to the Talaxian after spending days cooped up with him on the Baxial.
That left the Doctor.
He checked on Kathryn who was sleeping soundly, her naked body lying face down on the sheets, looking adorably cute. She was beautiful, brave, strong, sexy as hell, tender. He had called her many more things over the past hours, but he had never really thought of Kathryn as cute before. It was a new discovery for him and he loved it.
If this night was never to be repeated, so be it. Foremost in his heart, he wanted her to be safe. But the safety of Kathryn Janeway was a fragile thing indeed.
He left for sickbay.
"Commander, what can I do for you at this late hour?" the EMH asked from his office.
"Computer, lock the sickbay door and bar all communications except for emergencies. Authorisation Chakotay Beta -2."
The EMH blurted out. "Commander, what is the meaning of…?"
"The Captain, Doctor. Tell me about her treatment starting from when we arrived back on Voyager."
"I can't, Commander. It's confidential information. Only the patient and her doctor —"
Chakotay snarled. "Doctor, I can't delete your program. But I will order somebody who can. Or, I can pick you up until your holographic lungs begin to choke. Your choice."
He marvelled at the refinement of the EMH sub-routine program. He had never seen the Doctor turn that shade of pasty white before.
"If you insist. When the Baxial docked, I had to operate on Seven first. Mr Paris had injected her with nanites which stabilised her vital functions while you were in transit but there was much to do. I have to say that re-energizing depleted Borg implants was a challenge I am proud to —"
Taking the Doctor by his lapels, Chakotay lifted him off the chair. The EMH skin colour shifted to a light pink.
"Then I operated on the Captain's arm, repairing the torn muscles and reconnecting the nerve endings. I gave her a sedative and put in an intravenous feed overnight. All three women had lost a lot of weight due to their poor diet and hard work but she was worse affected than Lt Torres."
"What happened in the morning? What made you think she was fit for duty so soon?" Chakotay asked, still holding onto the EMH.
"Commander, could you please let me down? I don't really need to breathe but it's a bit uncomfortable up here."
Chakotay let him fall back in the chair. Then he sat on the corner of the desk, looming over the EMH.
"After you'd left her bedside and before Captain Janeway woke up, Mr Paris came to see me. He suggested I release the Captain from sickbay a day earlier than I would have otherwise advised."
He readjusted his collar, carefully avoiding the Commander's gaze. "His argument was that the Captain would feel more comfortable if she was back on the bridge as early as possible. Knowing the Captain, I thought he was probably right. So I discharged her. Of course I made sure her physical recovery was not compromised and she promised me she would start on some exercises I prescribed for her arm."
There was not much more Chakotay would get out the Doctor. Paris had left the EMH in the dark about his real motives, which hopefully had nothing to do with that stupid betting pool of his.
"This information does not leave sickbay, Doctor. It does not appear on the Captain's medical record and you will not talk to her about it. Is that clear?" Chakotay threatened.
"Of course Commander. There is no reason for it. Mr Paris was also very keen for me not to tell anyone," the EMH said, trying hard to forget that he had just spilled the beans to Voyager's second in command.
Chakotay found Paris in Sandrine, playing pool with a couple of crew members who must have sensed the Commander was not in the mood for chatting. They left the holodeck in a hurry.
"The Doctor told me of your little talk about the Captain needing to go back on duty as early as possible this morning," Chakotay said, leaning against the bar with all the relaxed stance of a grizzly bear. "The Captain also mentioned to me your little chitchat with her today," he added. "She was extremely upset. What were you trying to accomplish exactly?"
Tom swallowed hard. It was really B'Elanna's fault. From the time she'd left sickbay, she had been like a Qo'noS storm. She had told him what had happened to the Captain on the Mother Planet, in between destroying a few wall decorations in his quarters. How many times had Kathryn been injured, kidnapped or gone missing over the past five years? Okay, it had not always been her choice, but there was no point in tempting the gods by being so bloody self-sacrificing. They both cared for the damn woman, so why was Tom not thinking of something to stop her. Because otherwise, she was going to go and see Chakotay and get him to act on his feelings for once even though the big oaf was almost as bad as the Captain.
Tom had relented, mainly because he agreed.
"We wanted to unsettle the Captain instead of just letting her think what she'd just done for Voyager was the right thing to do. Let her know we weren't happy this time. Separately, so she wouldn't think we were all in league." Tom gulped down his drink.
"Neelix, B'Elanna, me. Seven in absentia. I talked to Tuvok about our concerns without being too specific in case the Captain went to see him. It was his idea to prevent her from staying on the bridge. We left you out because we thought you were part of the solution, if you see what I mean. We provided the push we thought she needed, but somebody had to be there to catch her. You were it."
"You mean you arrange for her to come to my quarters this evening?" Chakotay asked.
Tom could just about feel the infrasounds of the Commander's voice travelling through the holodeck floor. "We didn't 'arrange' anything, Commander," the pilot answered, frowning. "We would never force Captain Janeway to do anything against her will. Give us a bit more credit. We're just worried about her. As you are, if I'm not mistaken."
Have I really just heard right? We meant for you to catch her, not to..., Tom thought.
So, the best Starfleet officers this side of the galaxy core had taken the Captain's welfare into their own hands. Good on them, Chakotay reflected. But she could not be made aware of their actions. If she were to realise what her senior crew had been up to, she would become distrustful and isolate herself for the next five decades of their journey. And she would never believe he had nothing to do with the whole plot.
His mind set, he stood. "You and your co-conspirators were well out of order, Lieutenant."
The change of tack did not escape the fast thinking Paris. "Yes, Commander. I understand that now."
"The Captain has a lot on her mind for the moment. She doesn't need more aggravation. As Voyager's second-in-command, staff discipline is my responsibility. Given the circumstances, nothing will be noted in your files. However, consider yourself warned not to go behind my back next time you have another brilliant idea regarding the Captain's wellbeing. Another ploy like this, not only will I tell her but there will be an official reprimand."
He did not expect Tom to take his threat seriously. He just wanted to erase the slight smirk showing on the pilot's face. "Unofficially, let your friends know that if I hear a peep from anybody about this little conspiracy of yours, I'll make sure the four of you are put on extra cleaning duties for the next year," he added with an evil smile.
Tom's eyes narrowed but he did not protest. He knew Chakotay could make his life a nightmare. "No problem, Commander. I'll tell them. Thank you."
Let Chakotay think what he wanted from these last two words. Thank you for not sending us to the brig. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for caring for the Captain so well, big guy.
He could not wait to tell B'Elanna about their two COs. After he checked where Janeway was right now.
Chakotay left the holodeck quite satisfied with himself. The night was still young, he reflected on the way back to his quarters.
The band of feathered dinosaurs spread onto the beach, turning rocks over with their small dextrous hands. Now that the large bipeds had mysteriously disappeared, it was safe to go out during the day and their little troop was already growing in size with the additional food they could collect.
One of the youngsters ran to the remains of the raft and started to rummage through the few possessions the long-gone humans had left behind. A clacking sound alerted a mature female who hurried along the rotting logs after her progeny, her long tail feathers spread out for balance. The yearling was holding a stone blade in the sun, mesmerised by the translucent edges. Together they searched for more sharp stones before walking back into the forest, holding their hoard of tools in their three-fingered hands.
Thank you for the reviews. Hope you enjoyed this AU as much as I enjoyed writing it. And my thanks once again to my beta, Helen8462.