Steer into the Skid
by Joan Powers
Summary: Janeway's new friend may be telepathic, but it doesn't take telepathy for her to discern Kathryn's feelings for Chakotay. Janeway/Chakotay
A/N: Thanks to Divinemissem13 and the fabulous SuzJ1 for wonderful input. And to Tracy for her support.
"Tell me more about Chakotay."
While Voyager was off in search of resources, Kathryn was participating in a leadership forum on Durum Nala. She hoped to learn more about the customs of the different alien species and understand the politics of this region of space. And hopefully initiate some contacts for trade, should Voyager's search for supplies prove unsuccessful.
Normally she would've preferred to have Tuvok or Neelix accompany her but both men were busy overseeing other projects. She was annoyed that Chakotay had insisted that a security detail attend with her but she'd rapidly quashed that idea. She wasn't some vulnerable female that needed protecting.
"Like I said, one of the many jobs of the first officer is supporting the captain."
Kathryn lowered her glass of wine and examined the woman seated across the table from her. She was confused, thinking they'd already covered that ground during their more formal panel discussions. The various delegates from different worlds had spent hours over the past weeks discussing how their societies were structured, their forms of government and social customs.
And this was not another team meeting or conference session, this was a casual dinner with her newly formed friend, Ze'al, Kathryn was enjoying relaxing with her, a luxury she didn't normally allow herself to indulge in. In fact, while spending time with Ze'al, she'd lowered her guard more than usual, especially since it had been so long since she'd enjoyed such personal interactions where she could be Kathryn instead of the captain.
"He has to agree with all your decisions?" Ze'al asked.
Her race, the Niobans, the hosts of the conference, were naturally telepathic, so their society had a complex set of rules governing the use of that ability.
"It's his job to bring you coffee every morning?" Her lips quirked, revealing her amusement.
With the exception of her piercing blue eyes, generous lips and bronze skin, along with petite well-manicured fingernails (and a few stray tendrils of nearly white hair that escaped her veil), most of her slim body was concealed from view, encased in a voluminous, flowing silk robe.
Kathryn's cheeks grew warm. She was surprised the woman had remembered her offhanded comment from several days ago. She wasn't sure how to respond.
"No. Not really-"
Kathryn hated that the word coffee had even been mentioned. Her hands trembled as her mind taunted her with the memory of that heavenly aroma. While her hosts had been more than generous, providing lodging, appetizing food and drink, coffee apparently wasn't on their radar. Nor was there any such equivalent in their culture. After nearly a month on this planet, she was going through caffeine withdrawal.
"And he saves his replicator rations for you?" Ze'al teased, her eyes starting to sparkle.
Her friend was observant. Maybe a little too observant.
Kathryn hadn't realized that she'd spoken so much about the traits of her first officer. But then again, the Voyager crew was her surrogate family, and she was their leader. These weren't ordinary circumstances so stronger bonds had been forged between them.
Surely, she'd spoken about other crew members. Ze'al had probably gleaned similar tidbits about Seven, Tuvok, and others from their conversations over the past weeks.
As if reacting to her thoughts, Ze'al said, "You speak about him a lot. You must be close."
Kathryn delayed her response, focusing on stabbing a piece of a decadent dessert with her fork. "I guess you could say that. Like I said, he's my first officer. My right-hand man."
Kathryn's thoughts wandered as she savored the richness of the cake. If only Neelix could concoct something this delicious.
Even though it had been a few weeks since she'd seen Chakotay, she missed his steady presence. His stable nature, his reassuring smile. His gentle reminders to take time for a meal or drink less coffee. He'd be howling with laughter if he was aware that she'd survived this long without caffeine. And that she'd somehow managed not to throttle anyone.
She smiled, envisioning his amused expression.
"I'd be lost without him."
His calm spirit could be soothing in times of stress. His fierce loyalty was highly appreciated. Yet Chakotay had a stubborn streak too. He hadn't been afraid to challenge her on some of her judgment calls over the years.
Although he'd referred to himself as an angry warrior, she had not glimpsed this side of him while he was on board Voyager. More than once she'd wondered what it would've been like to see him in action while fighting the Cardassians. When asked about his Maquis exploits, he tended to be modest and downplay his role.
"I sense he's not a typical first officer."
That was true. She couldn't imagine ever trusting Cavit as much as she did Chakotay. Or inviting him to her quarters for candle lit dinners.
"What makes him so exceptional?" Ze'al asked, taking another sip of wine.
Kathryn thought for a moment, while wiping her mouth with a napkin.
"The little things. Acts of kindness he performs without prompting. When I'm exhausted, he automatically rearranges the duty schedule to allow me to rest. When I'm overwhelmed, he'll pick up more of the status reports to review. He'll happily switch duties with me to give me those that I prefer. In dire situations, he'll work double and triple shifts without complaint."
Yet, as she spoke, Kathryn realized that most of those actions weren't the stated duties of the first officer as described by Starfleet regulations.
Before she could stop herself, she added. "When I'm injured, his face is usually the first one I see when I revive in Sick Bay."
She decided to omit the fact that he was usually holding her hand. She didn't want Ze'al to get the wrong impression.
"I can't wait to meet him. You've spoken about him so much I feel like I already know him. Make sure he comes down to the conference center when the sessions are concluded. You must introduce us. I insist."
A few days later when the conference had officially ended, Chakotay beamed down to meet Kathryn. She was alarmed by the rush of pleasure that filled her upon seeing his face. She'd missed him. However, within seconds she'd done sufficient damage control, automatically adjusting her features to conceal her broad smile, and corralling her more dangerous thoughts.
Chakotay grinned as he walked towards her, a cup of coffee in his hand.
"Chakotay, I could kiss you!" Kathryn said, rushing forward to grab the proffered cup. She affectionately squeezed his arm. The coffee was even hot! She took a sip and shivered with pleasure.
Ze'al smiled while pumping Chakotay's hand. "It's such a pleasure to meet you. I've heard so much about you." Turning towards Kathryn, she said, "I have a special gift for the two of you. You can stay one more night, correct?"
"Yes, that's right." Kathryn answered. She assumed Ze'al wanted to share some cultural music or take them to a local festival. She'd heard so much about their customs, she was excited at the prospect of participating in them.
However, after the three of them had shared a leisurely meal, Ze'al escorted them to a lower level of the leadership center. Instead of the plain utilitarian rooms and simple furnishings that had been used for the conference lodging and meetings, these ground level rooms were colorfully decorated with large pieces of art displayed on the walls. The windows were larger and there was a sliding door that allowed access to the outdoors. As they entered the room, they saw a wooden chest and a large bed covered with soft furs and fluffy pillows. Crossing the space, Ze'al guided the two of them outside to a stone patio.
The sunny outdoor area was private and secluded, surrounded by a tall stone wall that was covered with vines. Something resembling a natural hot tub was near the far corner of the grotto. The water bubbled and churned, with an inviting haze of steam rising above it. An ice bucket with a bottle of wine, and two glasses waited on a small table on the patio, along with a platter of fresh fruit and other tidbits. Bushes bearing colorful flowers with heady exotic scents surrounded the area.
"I hope you like my gift," Ze'al said as she started back towards the door. "Enjoy."
Then Kathryn realized her friend's intentions.
This was a lover's retreat!
Chakotay tried to hide his confusion while Kathryn didn't do as well with her embarrassment. She tried to protest.
Stepping closer to her friend, she slightly lowered her voice. "I think there's been a misunderstanding-"
"What do you mean?" Her friend said, gently smiling.
"This is…not appropriate."
Kathryn felt more than mortified. She felt betrayed. It was apparent that her new friend must've violated her trust and used her telepathic abilities to discern Kathryn's true feelings about Chakotay.
"Really?" Ze'al reached out to grab her friend's hand to squeeze it and reassure her. "Kathryn, don't be angry with me. I don't need to read your thoughts to know what's real. The truth has been revealed by so many little things. Candle lit dinners? Cooking meals for one another? Thoughtful gifts? Have you listened to yourself when you talk about him? The quality of your voice? Your expression? The glow in your eyes? Who do you think you're fooling? I'll see you two in the morning. Enjoy." She stepped through the door, leaving them alone.
This was so humiliating. How was she going to get out of this? And was Chakotay grinning? How dare he!
"I don't understand how this happened. She must've misunderstood," Kathryn said, her cheeks becoming more flushed.
Other races had sometimes mistaken the concept of the first officer or first mate for…something more intimate such as a life partner. It wasn't that uncommon. Perhaps she could push for that angle, even though he'd clearly overheard Ze'al's words.
"Yeah, that's it." Chakotay's reply lacked conviction.
She hated that his smile grew wider, and his eyes gleamed with amusement.
"Because a telepath that you've known for weeks has no clue how to read strong emotions."
By now her face was flaming. She stared at her feet, at the stone walls, anything to avoid those dark eyes and that smug expression.
She had two courses of action. To run after Ze'al and pull rank. Insist that this was a simple misunderstanding. Of course, that could damage their newly formed friendship, which she'd hate to do. And possibly impact their trade agreement.
And Ze'al had already proven that she didn't need to use her telepathic ability to discern Kathryn's true feelings.
Her friend was so pleased with her gift. She'd certainly be offended if Kathryn refused to accept it.
What were the other options?
For she and Chakotay to enjoy the amenities as friends?
It was possible.
Did she really want to do that?
She was tired. Tired of being alone. Of feeling isolated. Of wondering what could blossom between her and her first officer, if only she didn't have the weight of responsibility for Voyager on her shoulders. After seven years of self-imposed isolation, she'd reached her limit.
Could she take a chance?
Quit playing games and steer into the skid?
She looked towards Chakotay and said, "Would it be okay if what she was saying was true?"
Their eyes held one another in silent understanding.
"Kathryn, you know my feelings for you have never changed."
Feeling nervously excited, she took a deep breath.
"It's a beautiful place and it would be a shame to not to take advantage of it."
She strode towards the steaming pool. Once there, she started removing her jacket.
"What are you doing?" Chakotay asked.
"I don't know about you but I'm going to enjoy that hot tub."
She peeled off her turtleneck, revealing her white Starfleet issue bra.
Chakotay swallowed hard, not certain what to expect. He tried to avert his eyes. To be a gentleman. However, when she removed her bra, he couldn't help but admire the view.
"Are you coming?" she asked, continuing her slow strip tease, pushing her trousers past her thighs.
"You're sure about this?"
She sighed, not wanting a long, involved discussion. She was tired of fighting her feelings. Afterall they were so blatant that she couldn't hide them from a person that she'd only known for a month. She shimmied out of her underwear. Fully naked, she lowered herself into the soothing bubbling water.
She sighed with pleasure, enjoying the warmth.
"Like you said, Chakotay, she's a telepath. She knows the truth." She hoped she wouldn't need to belabor the point. "Get over here."
God, she adored those dimples.
"You're overdressed. Get rid of those clothes."
He eagerly joined her, tossing his jacket aside as he closed the distance between them.