Together with Falling Asleep and A Good Officer, this story is part of a series loosely based around the early days and weeks of Voyager's journey.
The Sacajawea landed with more clatter than style inside Voyager's shuttle bay.
"Janeway to Tuvok. Take us out of the system immediately."
The door they'd just flown through closed with a thud, and the small spacecraft was left in the cavernous hangar.
"Next time Chakotay, remind me to triple-check any trade mission Neelix has dubbed 'easy'." Then she murmured something less than polite about the latest Delta quadrant inhabitants they had encountered.
Chakotay rested his head against the top of the helm chair. They had made it back to the ship with almost all the supplies they needed. His first away mission as first officer would have counted as a success in his books - if it had not been for the near-disastrous fire fight at the end.
He had been less than impressed when the Captain had insisted she was to accompany him on the routine trade mission. Tuvok had backed him up, citing a long list of Starfleet protocols about the duties of the captain. The essence of it was that she was to look after the ship while delegating away missions to her First Officer, who couldn't have agreed more.
Knowing all too well Janeway's insistence that Voyager was foremost a Starfleet ship, Chakotay had thought the matter closed and got ready to tell Kim to come with him.
Instead, she'd completely ignored their misgivings.
"An away mission is an excellent opportunity for building trust and understanding between captain and first officer," she'd said, a smile on her face. "Bridge duty's fine, but to become a well-honed command team, we need to learn how each other will act in different situations. What better way to start than with a trade mission? Chakotay, you'll take the helm. I'll be your navigator."
It had been only two weeks since he'd agreed to be her First Officer so his first reaction was that she wanted to check up on him. See how he would behave outside of Voyager, what he would say of his adopted ship. Or maybe she was already bored and wanted to escape the constraints of a ship bound for a very long journey, see what lengths her First Officer would go to to keep whatever she would do under wraps and out of the ship's official records. He'd heard of captains who grabbed any excuse to go wild when planet-side.
Neither notion fitted the Janeway he'd been closely observing over the past fortnight. And she was right. They did not really know each other as yet. So he had relented.
This mission was supposed to have been stress-free; the list of supplies agreed on a few days earlier, the trading terms accepted, all the preparatory work done and dusted well before they'd set foot on Garro. What could go wrong?
He powered down the shuttle, his movements jerky. "Chakotay to Kim," he said in a tired voice.
"Kim here, Commander."
"Ensign, please set up a quarantine field in Cargo Bay 2. When ready, organise a site-to-site transport for the supplies we brought back."
"Aye, sir. The quarantine field is already operational. Transporting the containers now."
Harry did his job well. He knew his duties. Why couldn't the Captain stick to hers?
"Thank you. Tell the Doctor that whatever inspection he wants us to do can wait until tomorrow. Chakotay out."
He heard the Captain leave her seat.
"Thank you for bringing back us back in one piece, Commander." Misreading his silence, she turned his chair around. "Are you hurt? I didn't know. You should have told me." She was looking him over, her hands running over his arms and chest as if he was going to shatter. "Chakotay, talk to me. Where are you hurt?"
She was so close to him, he could smell the melted fabric over the blistered skin, a straight line running from the top of her right arm, stretching from one collarbone to the other and cutting through the red section of her uniform jacket all the way to the other arm. It'd just missed the small depression at the base of her neck, concealed by the grey top.
The injury was superficial, but an inch closer to her chest…
Anger came up his throat, tasting like bile. "Why didn't you stay inside and start the engines? I commed you to stay put." His voice was so deep he was not even sure she could hear him.
She lifted her head, her blue eyes narrowing. "The Garrons pursuing us were only a few metres behind you."
He did not recall they'd been that near. All he could remember was the shuttle ramp was still down, waiting for him, and silhouettes were creeping towards it. "You had the supplies Voyager needs. You should not have left the safety of the shuttle."
"They were ready to fire on you. They might not use phasers, but I am sure the guns they have are quite as effective."
He'd come barrelling down the path so fast that his aim had been wide. He'd only wanted to keep the aliens from entering the shuttle.
"You should have sealed the bay." His voice was rising now, sounding too loud in the confines of the cockpit.
"It would have taken too long to get the ramp down again for you. It was too risky." She took a step back.
"You should have stayed put, closed the bay door and taken off. You are the captain. Remember what Tuvok said? I am your first officer. I am the one who should take on the risks for you. That's my role."
Was he begging? Pleading with her to understand? He did not know.
She jutted her chin. "What would have happened to you, then?"
"Voyager would have locked on my comm badge and transported me out," he answered, knowing full well it would not have worked because of the atmospheric interference. That's why they had taken the shuttle down there in the first place.
"Leaving you behind getting shot at?" A glare showed through. "Over my dead body."
He stood, closing the distance between them. "And that's what almost happened," he said, pointing at her chest.
"It's not the first time I've been under enemy fire, Chakotay." She fingered the scorched fabric. "It's just a phaser burn. I'm fine."
He spoke through clenched jaws. "For spirits' sake, Captain. You said it yourself. The Garrons don't use phasers."
Her hand stilled. "Oh," was all she said.
He was almost heaving. "I saw a shadow. I thought a Garron had already managed to come inside the shuttle and was going to … I never thought you would come looking for me. It was too late by the time I saw the uniform. I shot you."
A hiss escaped him. "For a second, I… I thought I'd killed you, Captain."
He closed his eyes. The phaser beam inched towards her. He felt the jerk of her head as it hit her, her hair coming undone and floating around her face. He watched her falling down so slowly, so gracefully before her body crashed on the metal grate.
She was dead.
"Look at me, Chakotay." Taking his hand, she placed it on top of the burnt rip across her chest. "Feel me. Touch me. I am fine. I didn't even know I'd been hit until we were off the planet. You kept the Garrons at bay, Chakotay. You saved my life."
He moved his hand and cupped her jaw, feeling her steady pulse beneath his fingers. He remembered the sound of bodies hitting the dirt behind him, picked off one by one by the woman still standing in the shuttle opening, while he'd run up the ramp and slammed the emergency door lock.
She was alive.
"I haven't used a Starfleet phaser for a long time. I came so close to–"
"Tuvok to the Captain."
She squeezed his hand, then turned aside, tapping her comm badge.
"We've just left the Garron system. Do you require assistance?"
"No, thank you. The Commander and I were just talking about what happened on Garro, but we've finished now."
"Then I'd like to send an Engineering team to inspect the shuttle as soon as possible, Captain."
"Of course, Tuvok. Janeway out."
"Commander, we have reports to write." She gave him a smile and made for the shuttle door.
"I am stepping down as your first officer," he said, not moving from where he was standing. Tuvok's voice had reminded him of the disciplinary consequences of what he'd done.
"Why? What for?" she asked, turning around, her eyes wide.
"Starfleet protocols are clear, Captain. I made a point to reacquaint myself with the more relevant sections when you promoted me to the command team. There needs to be an investigation and considering my former role as Maquis leader, it would be best if I was to step down during the course of the enquiry."
"That is not acceptable." There was no mistaking her tone. She was angry.
He frowned. "My apologies, Captain. I'll confine myself to my quarters, then."
"No, Chakotay. It won't happen."
"The brig then. I fully understand." His back had not been so straight since his first year at the Academy.
"No you don't. You've done nothing wrong, Chakotay."
They were facing each other again but this time both were scowling. Chakotay was the first to break the heavy silence that engulfed them. "I shot you. It's a miracle I didn't kill you. I failed in my duty to protect you."
"Today, what you did, what we did, was to learn a little bit more about how each other would react out there." She pointed at the dark and unknown space beyond the shuttle bay bulkhead. "When it got tough, I knew you would cover my back. I never thought otherwise. What happened was an accident. Nothing more."
Her eyes latched onto his, her tone of voice firmer. "As for what I did, I'm sorry to have put you in a situation where you thought you'd shot me. But understand that I don't regret coming to your help, and I'll do it again if needed. I'll never abandon a member of my crew, Starfleet protocols notwithstanding. Besides," she added with a crooked smile, "Tuvok would give me hell if I was to come back without my first officer."
Chakotay cocked an eyebrow. "I would have thought that since I'd taken his place…"
"Oh, he would do his duty of course, but he does find me…reckless at times."
"Reckless? I wonder why he would think such a thing…" Chakotay felt a grin coming to his face. "To reassure him, maybe we should amend the procedures for the next away mission."
"Amend the procedures?" She was watching him intently, her frown back.
"Clearly, you are a much better shot than I am. I'll just have to make sure we stay close."
He treated her to his full dimpled smile and in the dimness of the shuttle lighting, her face took on a tinge of pink.
Something fluttered in his chest, something he had not experienced for a very long time. 'Because she's the Captain' somehow did not quite cover anymore why he would give his life for her.
"So there are no more misunderstandings about where we stand, Captain."
"Yes, I see," she said, a slight smirk showing.
"However," she looked down at her uniform with a sigh. "The Doctor will soon realise this is a phaser burn and write it down in his report, which Tuvok is bound to read. Given the damage to the shuttle, it won't take him long to add two and two together. You don't want to know the paperwork we'll have to go through to explain what happened. He won't let me off the ship for the next seventy-five years."
"And… you intend to do what exactly? Patch up the hull before Engineering arrive?" He had not expected her to deliberately conceal their risky behaviour on Garro from the scrutiny of Voyager's Chief of Security. There were hidden depths to her guileful mind he was still unaware of.
"Rather impractical," she conceded. "But there is a quicker way."
She moved to the replicator. "Command uniform jacket and grey top, female, small." She was already tugging at her clothes when both garments materialised in the alcove.
"Chakotay. I need your help."
He took a step back, suddenly loath to touch her. "What you need is to get that burn treated. I'll get the medical kit."
"It will have to wait." She wriggled her arms out of the torn jacket and top, swearing softly under her breath. Noticing his uneasiness, she pleaded. "I'll deal with it in my quarters but I would really appreciate if…"
She turned her head to let him work. Putting his cold fingers on the abused skin, he peeled the fabric off with his other hand, moving slowly along the wound. Beads of sweat formed in the notch at the base of her neck, but she said nothing. When he was sure none of the burnt clothes stuck to her skin anymore, he lifted them over head then helped her carefully pull on the new ones.
By the time the engineering team arrived, Janeway was looking her usual self, if a bit paler and her bun markedly messier. Chakotay shut the personal pack he'd brought with him on the mission, the evidence of his mistake securely stowed inside. The last thing he wanted was for the maintenance team to find the Captain's ripped clothes lying on a shuttle seat.
They strode down the ramp, nodding at the handful of people streaming into the cargo bay.
"Captain, I know it's the end of the shift but I'd like to start on the mission debriefing as soon as possible, if you don't mind." His gaze pointed purposefully south of her chin.
She leaned towards him and threaded her arm though his. "An excellent idea, Commander. We could discuss our joint report over dinner in my quarters."
"In that case, I think a bottle of wine is in order."
"Your replicator rations?"
"Of course, Captain," he nodded gravely.
She laughed. "I see we understand each other perfectly. I told you, nothing like an away mission–"
The cargo bay door closed behind them.
Many thanks to Mia_Cooper for the beta. Her suggestions to keep the story to the point were spot on. So not even a T rating this time.
This story was inspired by The Line of Fire, a Stargate SG-1 story by gatehead81, at s/9471845/1/In-The-Line-Of-Fire. With her kind permission.