Much Ado About Something....
A sequel to "The Ploy". Sometimes you just need to find the right conspiracy theory and put it into practise!
23:45 hours Friday night in the Mess Hall...
Seven had had quite enough. Ever since Chakotay had arrived in the Cargo Bay at 20:45 to escort her for the evening, his mind had been elsewhere. It was obvious to her that he regretted accepting her invitation and she had initially thought that he was self conscious about being seen 'on a date'. Perhaps - as First Officer - the protocols prohibiting fraternisation applied almost to the same extent as they did to the Captain? But, in that case, why had he not simply informed her of this at the outset? Or perhaps it was her less than scintillating company. She had tried her best but, no doubt, her considerable deficiencies in aptitude at 'small talk' had stifled any possibility of a spark igniting between them. Even so, he could at least have paid her the courtesy of feigning an interest in her until the party was over.
It wasn't until 23:15 that the penny dropped, so to speak. It was at that precise moment that Captain Janeway decided to "drop by" and wish Harry a very happy 30th complete with a beautifully wrapped gift. She had slipped in quietly and initially unnoticed by both herself and Chakotay and it wasn't until Tom raised his voice for the toast and Harry's whoop of joy on discovering that the Captain had replicated him a beautiful mahogany oboe that they realised she was there. She had stayed just long enough to share a drink with Harry, Tom and B'Elanna before slipping out again less than quarter of an hour later. But Seven had not missed a thing. Although Kathryn Janeway had not glanced in their direction once, Chakotay had fixated on her from the second she appeared and he was still sightlessly staring at the Mess Hall doors through which she had long since departed.
They both had duty shifts starting at 0700 hours so it was reasonable for them to depart now : thank goodness ! She would bid Harry goodnight and then return to her alcove to regenerate. At this juncture she cared not whether Chakotay bothered to escort her 'home' or not! "Commander, thank you for your company tonight. However - if you would excuse me - I need to return to my alcove to have sufficient time to regenerate before my duty shift resumes at 0700 hours. Please do not feel obligated to escort me back to Cargo Bay 2. If you will excuse me..." this last as she headed towards Harry Kim without so much as a backward glance.
Her words had the effect of a bucket of ice water having been throw over his head. Chakotay snapped out of his reverie and immediately felt ashamed. His attention had been riveted on Kathryn Janeway all night and it obviously showed! Poor Seven, he could at least have made the effort to engage in some small talk with her. His heart had just not been in it. He had accepted her invitation whilst still reeling in shock from having just read the contents of Kathryn's notebook and he had been stewing in self pity; self loathing and bitterness towards Kathryn ever since. Once he had left the Cargo Bay yesterday morning and had time to reconsider, he had decided to go ahead with escorting Seven this evening out of a desire for revenge. Plain and simple. He knew that Kathryn would drop in late in the evening and he wanted to hurt her as much as she had hurt him. Much Ado About Nothing indeed!
She had originally lent him that tome as a peace offering to repair the bridges of trust between them after Seven had done her best to shatter them with her wild conspiracy theories. What better way to take his revenge than move on with Seven... The real irony was that Kathryn had barely registered his presence and certainly not noticed that he was escorting Seven. In fact, no one had. Hardly surprising considering that he had barely exchanged a couple of sentences with her all night. They had strode in together, he had gotten them both a glass of whatever syntheholic beverage Tom had concocted : then stood as far apart from everyone as he could. Pointedly looking out of the far viewport and replaying every intimate exchange he had had with their Captain over the last seven years ad nauseum. Not that it had achieved anything bar showing Seven just how thoughtless and insensitive he could be. A sorrier excuse for a romantic companion for the evening would be almost impossible to find.
As Seven turned towards the doors Chakotay appeared at her side. "Thank you for inviting us Harry. It was a great party and many congratulations on reaching the big 3-0 milestone. Enjoy your weekend off duty. If you'll excuse us, Seven and I have the early shift tomorrow so we must take our leave." He pro-offered his right arm and , without being overtly rude, there was nothing that Seven could do but take it.
As soon as the Mess Hall doors closed behind them and they were alone she pulled her arm away. "If you'll excuse me Commander.."
As she turned to march away towards the Cargo Bay Chakotay swung around and grabbed her shoulder. "Seven, please wait. Let me escort you home. It's the least I can do and I owe you an apology for my appalling company this evening..."
"There is no need Commander. It was foolish of me to ask you to accompany me tonight. Do not worry, I will not seek to fraternise with you again. Goodnight."
"On the contrary, there is every need Seven. I owe you an explanation though where to begin..."
He hurried along beside her as Seven stalked towards her sanctuary as fast as her Borg enhanced legs would take her. "The explanation is self evident Commander. You regretted having committed yourself to escorting me thereby missing out on the opportunity to socialise with Captain Janeway : who subsequently reduced her involvement to a mere thirteen minutes and twenty two seconds before departing. Without so much as glancing in your direction. You spent the previous three hours awaiting her arrival and have been mourning her departure for the last twenty six minutes and forty nine seconds."
Was he really that obvious? Apparently so! "Seven, it's not what you are thinking. I can honestly say that I had no intention of escorting the Captain tonight nor is it likely in the foreseeable future. Our relationship is strictly professional and we have recently come to a mutual agreement that any interaction between us should be absolutely limited to on duty hours only from now on. In the interests of crew cohesion and the smooth running of the ship..."
So, it would seem that Tom Paris was right. The command team had had another 'bust up' as he called it. Though no one seemed to have a clue as to what the cause was this time. Whatever the cause, it was patently none of her business and the sooner she could bring this evening to an end the better. If only she had not followed the Doctor's well meant advice last week. He had been encouraging her to be more 'spontaneous' , not to pre-analyse every comment she was about to make and try to extrapolate the entire subsequential conversation. He had encouraged her to find a date for Harry's birthday party and when she had chanced upon Commander Chakotay alone in her territory - carrying a celebratory bottle of Antarian cider no less - it had seemed the perfect opportunity ...
She was brought abruptly out of her reverie by the sound of Chakotay's voice over her left shoulder. "...so you see I was not myself yesterday morning. It's no excuse but I hope we can put tonight behind us and resume our working relationship as normal in the morning."
They had arrived back at her alcove and thankfully Icheb was working Gamma shift in Astrometrics until she would relieve him at 0700. "I'm sorry Commander, I should never have asked you to accompany me for such an unofficial occasion...it was...inappropriate. Please convey my apologies to the Captain for appropriating her escort for the evening. Goodnight."
As Seven turned to enter the command sequence to begin her regeneration cycle something inside Chakotay snapped. Maybe it was the irony of the situation or just his pent up rage at having been emotionally castrated by a certain Captain yet again but he had had enough. First he started to shake then found himself uncontrollably laughing : bitter; angry; grotesque; wailing guffaws until he sank to his knees and started to sob. In an instant Seven had crouched down at his side "Commander...Chakotay...what's wrong?" When she received no response she hit her Comm badge. "Seven of Nine to the Doctor I have a.." before she could finish Chakotay grabbed her arm and vigorously shook his head. "No Doctor...Seven please..."
She regarded the pitiable sight of the man before her and inclined her head just the once "It's alright Doctor, my apologies, a false alarm. My alcove had a minor malfunction but I have corrected it. I will see you at 1400 hours tomorrow as usual. Seven out."
"Thank you Seven...I'm fine...I don't know what came over me...probably too much of Mr. Paris's party punch..."
She regarded him with her usual cool demeanour and merely raised her left eyebrow an almost imperceptible fraction before speaking softly but firmly "If you ever want to talk...if you need a friend...you know where I am." With that she stepped away to give him space to compose himself.
Chakotay wished he could sink through the floor or dematerialise never to be seen again. He realised that he had been right all along. Seven was possibly the only female on board with no hidden agenda. She had simply wanted someone she could trust to act as her 'date' for the evening. A companion to help her fit in during an, as yet, still unfamiliar social scenario. And he could do with a friend. A female one. Someone who could speak plainly - like a man - but from a female perspective. Every woman he had let his emotional guard down with...Seska...Riley...Kellin...now Kathryn too...they had all had an agenda. Played him for the fool he was. He could trust none of them. But Seven was different. He owed her the truth. "Seven, I owe you the truth but that may be difficult for you to hear. It concerns my friendship with the Captain. I would value your perspective but everything I say to you must remain strictly between us. If you feel that being my confidant would conflict with your friendship with the Captain I understand."
Seven considered. She had heard the rumours but had always thought they were just that. The Captain and First Officer were just good colleagues and close friends, as a result of working in tandem for the last seven years. All the rest was idle speculation from the likes of Tom Paris. She had agreed with the Doctor, gossip originating from him and his associates - should be regarded as just that. Fodder for his betting pool and no more. But the man standing before her now was clearly in considerable distress and she had seen both the emotions flitting across his eyes and the nuances in his body language from the moment Kathryn Janeway had appeared through the Mess Hall doors to the moment they had hissed shut behind her departing back. She had studied both the literature the Doctor had supplied her on the subject and Voyager's extensive literary database then of course, there had been her detailed observations of the interactions between Lieutenants Paris and Torres that had almost earned her a black eye from the latter on more than one occasion. It was obvious now that Chakotay was in love with Kathryn Janeway and that something had transpired recently that had triggered him to accept her impromptu invitation for the evening and fall to pieces in front of her moments ago. Something very bad. More than the usual 'bust up' that Tom had referred to.
"Commander...Chakotay...I would be honoured if you would confide in me. Perhaps I can even help? I will replicate us some tea. Please have a seat. Icheb and I use those storage crates as chairs and there is a tressel table just behind the barrels of Leola root over there."
Whilst Seven replicated their teas Chakotay set up the impromptu dining area. He doubted that Seven could help but he was truly grateful for her offer to listen whilst he unburdened himself. Perhaps she may even have some insight into the "extreme scenario" regulations that Kathryn had mentioned in her notes. After all, the Borg had assimilated enough Starfleet Captains whilst Seven had been a drone. If there was any truth to it, she would know. When Seven returned with their teas and they had made themselves as comfortable as was possible, he began. "Last week the Captain made good on a bet. It all started when I lost a pool tournament against her six months ago..."
Two hours later he left the cargo bay. Oh how he wanted to believe that Seven's assessment of the situation were true, but he very much doubted it. Perhaps her judgement was clouded by her unspoken adulation of the Captain. After all she had been Seven's primary mentor and chief advocate for the past four years. It was only natural that Seven would want to see the Captain in a good light. No doubt he would be proved right : Kathryn would be pleased that he had 'moved on', stopped obsessively fantasising about her...as long as he remained the loyal side-kick. Still it would boost his ego to be seen with a beautiful young woman on his arm for the next few weeks, even if it were all a sham. No one would know that bar the two of them. He would put on the Oscar winning performance of his life. He hoped giving Kathryn a taste of her own medicine would begin to soothe the gaping wound in his soul.
Five weeks later, one hour after Voyager emerged in the Alpha Quadrant...
Kathryn sat alone in her Ready Room surrounded by a stack of PADDs all urgently demanding her attention. They were only four hours away from entering lunar orbit at which point Admiral Paris's shuttle would dock and the whole circus would erupt for goodness knows how long. Debriefings for a seven year mission of this magnitude ...well the whole scenario was completely unprecedented and she doubted that her life would be her own ever again. Perhaps it was just as well. She would have no time to reflect...no time to feel her loss...no time to think about him with her... . So why was he all she could think about ...and now of all times? ! She needed to pull herself together, to get on with the mountain of urgent tasks she needed to complete before Owen boarded. But once they entered orbit there would be no time...no chance to mend bridges...However much it hurt her she needed to thank Chakotay for his unwavering support over the last seven and a half years. She could not have asked for a better First Officer and she could not have survived out there all these years without him. If he had recently found happiness with...another member of their crew then...then she would ...follow the advice she had given little Naomi all those years ago. A Captain tucks her proverbial shirt in and never abandons a member of her crew. However much it costs her personally. Time for the Oscar winning performance of your career Captain Janeway she admonished herself.
Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves and steady her voice she hit her Comm badge "Janeway to Chakotay. Commander I'd like to see you in my Ready Room as soon as possible."
"Chakotay here. Acknowledged Captain. I'm currently in Engineering but I should be with you in about fifteen minutes."
"See you then Commander. Janeway out." Kathryn cut the communication and noticed her hands were shaking. Pull yourself together she admonished herself. Heading for the replicator she ordered a double shot espresso - lukewarm - and downed it in less than thirty seconds before ordering a second mug, this time steaming hot. Well it had steadied her hands though her heart was still racing and she felt nauseous. Talk about "extreme scenarios" : she had brought this one upon herself and there was nothing in the Starfleet Captains' Manual to assist her in resolving it. She had meant to be cruel to be kind. Give Chakotay his freedom bearing in mind that they had expected to be travelling through the Delta Quadrant for many years to come. How could she have known that her future self would materialise to rescue them only a matter of weeks later and that Chakotay would react as swiftly as he had. And with...Seven of all people! So now, here she was. Supposedly on the brink of being home but without the one person who made anywhere truly a home for her. What a mess - and one she would have to play along with for the rest of her life. Knowing the cost was Kathryn's future. From now on she would only ever be Captain Janeway to the man she loved more than life itself.
Fifteen minutes later in the Ready Room...
Kathryn heard the door chime and then whoosh closed behind him. She knew he was standing to attention just behind the chair facing her desk, just waiting for her to look up and invite him to sit and then...then she would have to look him in the eye and say...what exactly?
Her mind refused to form the words. She forced herself to glance up, her eyes reaching no further than his midriff (thank all the deities that Chakotay is as tall as he is she fleetingly thought) and motioned for him to sit down simultaneously heading for the replicator for additional refreshments. She was being a coward and delaying the inevitable as long as she could. Extending the torture but she still had no idea of how she was going to look him in the eye and say her formal goodbyes. Wish him...and Seven! ...a happy ever after.
Chakotay's attention had been fixed on her ever since the Ready Room doors had opened. It was obvious that she was playing for time, avoiding the inevitable showdown. What a way to end their journey together after all these years and everything they had meant to each other. Correction Chakotay - he chastised himself - everything she had meant to him. What he had thought was a mutual commitment had turned to dust the moment he had read that notebook of hers. Oh he had seen the reactions of the crew since his dates with Seven had become public knowledge. Very few appeared to approve and, with the exception of Harry and one or two junior crew, there had been little in the way of friendly overtures towards himself and Seven when they socialised with the crew together. There had been no reaction from the Captain at all. She had said nothing to him or to Seven and as far as he could tell, the dynamic of her relationship with Seven had not altered. Meanwhile, their own was now non existent. She barely said two words to him all shift and made a point of either retreating to her Ready Room or sending him on various errands during their duty shifts. Anything to reduce the time they had to spend only inches apart in their respective command chairs. Well that suited him just fine. At least it was honest. Probably the only honest interaction they had had for their entire journey. So now he was sure of it. She disapproved of his relationship with Seven and no doubt wanted to say something to that effect before they disembarked. Let her - he was more than ready to give voice to all the pain he had endured...
Come on CAPTAIN she mentally ordered herself. Look him in the eye and wish him well for the future. Thank him for his unwavering support since we joined forces at the Array and express your hopes for his and Seven's happiness together. You can do it! She forced herself to look up and meet Chakotay's eyes. She was not consciously aware that she had been speaking but she must have vocalised her thoughts because the next thing she knew he slapped her hard across the face!
She had seen Chakotay angry before on many an occasion. Oh they had had their heated arguments about the Kazon, The Devore, The Hirogen, Species 8472 & the Borg, Equinox...too many incidents to name but she had never seen his rage directed at her like this. And he had never laid a finger on her in anger before! She staggered back and instinctively raised her hand to her Comm badge to call security but something in his eyes stopped her. The colour had drained from his face and he looked as though he was about to pass out.
Chakotay started at her through the red mist that was gradually receding before his eyes. One second all the hurt and anger had boiled to the surface and the next he felt nothing but revulsion: at himself. Seeing Kathryn recoil from him and the red welt spreading across her right cheek which was beginning to swell. On entering he had held such high hopes that she would say something...anything...to bring this nightmare to an end. Something to hold onto to...that that notebook was wrong. That none of this was happening. That there still was a 'them' to come home to. Instead what had she said? Some Starfleet Manual disembarkation speech that a Captain would routinely give to his or her First Officer after an extended mission and to add insult to injury she had rounded off with an "all the best to you and Seven for your future happiness together" ...
Somehow he had to...respond. His conscious mind went blank but from somewhere deep inside his heart spoke up " So, after all, we really have spent almost eight long years achieving absolutely nothing!? Every gesture, every word, every glance...just a ploy on your part to keep me in line? And I fell for it for all that time. Boy, I thought I had reached the depths of my stupidity with Seska but apparently not. Well Captain Janeway I do not wish you well. I wish you the future you deserve...as the Admiral. She brought that lonely life upon herself and now I know why. No wonder I married Seven...even with all those cybernetic implants she is more human than you will ever be."
Oh God ! He really had fallen for her ploy. She had written those notes in the very early stages of their journey but had abandoned that train of thought on New Earth because she realised how wrong she had been. There was never any need of such subterfuge with Chakotay. Not only was he an honourable man and his word was his bond but after the 'Angry Warrior' speech it had dawned on her. Not only did she have his loyalty and friendship but she had captured his heart. She had his unwavering love. And what had she done with it? Pulled that stupid stunt to try and set him free six weeks ago. She should have recycled that notebook years ago. What had she been thinking! And now, Admiral Janeway had sacrificed her own life to come back in time and save them only for Captain Janeway to have sabotaged her own happy ending once and for all. ...Suddenly it all came crashing down around her...
She felt herself walking forward in slow motion still keeping her eyes fixed on his and tried to open her mouth to formulate a response but no words would come. She felt the room starting to constrict in her peripheral vision and the colours seemed to fade. Although she was aware of walking towards him and his being rooted to the spot he seemed to be receding into the distance. Her unshed tears were clouding her vision and the air seemed devoid of oxygen.
Suddenly she was aware of looking up at the ceiling and Chakotay bending over her. Her chest hurt and she was gasping for breath. In an instant she was cradled in his arms with her head resting against his chest. She could feel his heart racing. He just kept repeating the one phrase she had dreamed of hearing from his lips all these long and lonely years "...I love you too Kathryn. I love you too..."