"Feeling better?" Kashyk inquired when he entered the room a few hours later.
Paris had been allowed to wash up, and now he, too, sat in a newer, bloodstain-less tunic. Janeway didn't answer Kashyk, not trusting herself to remain reasonable.
Kashyk added, "You shouldn't be so cross, Kathryn. Don't tell me you've never had it rough before."
The amusement in his voice riled her. Janeway shot him a look of loathing. "No one's ever needed to have it rough."
Kashyk merely smiled.
He studied the two prisoners, and then gestured them to follow him.
"Come with me."
They followed him, and he sometimes slowed to allow them to walk in front of them. He'd size them up, especially Paris. Janeway briefly considered trying something, then realized that the Devore weren't foolish enough to leave a prized inspector on his own with two prisoners. There were soldiers lurking around the corridors, silently standing at attention in places not immediately visible, ready for any stirring of violence.
Kashyk led them into a room similar to Janeway's ready room, with a giant desk, and two chairs in front, one of which appeared to have been hastily pulled there. Janeway suddenly understood why Kashyk had been so fond of sitting behind her desk. It appeared that the chair on the other side of the desk was slightly elevated, so as to give a height advantage to the person seated there. Perhaps it was a standard Devore design.
Kashyk gestured for them to sit down, and then took his own seat.
"As you know from our previous encounter," he glanced at Janeway to gauge her reaction from his choice of wording, "The Devore Imperium places high priority on the search for the wormhole."
"We remember," Paris said in a frosty voice, shooting a glance at Janeway.
"We won't help you," Janeway cut in, anticipating his request.
Kashyk raised an eyebrow. "Are you so sure?" He rose to his feet. "Last time, you were under no incentive. You had nothing to gain. This time, though," he looked over at them, "I am prepared to offer you freedom and safe passage back through the wormhole in exchange for your help finding it."
Janeway had already opened her mouth to reject his offer, but his words gave her pause. Her voice froze in her throat. This could be their only chance of getting back to Voyager. Then she thought, How could I possibly do that, condemn thousands of telepaths to their deaths because I helped the Devore Imperium destroy the wormhole that would have saved them? Could I ever live with myself if I did that? We'd be back on the ship, but the cost…
Kashyk read her hesitation, and it prompted a slight smile from him. "If you're wrestling with your ethics, Captain, imagine how the soldiers will react if you reject my offer. They won't be pleased." His gaze slinked over to Paris. "And your unfortunate crewman, stuck here in a detention center, away from those he cares about, the life he enjoyed. He'd hate you for it."
"You leave me out of this, Kashyk!" Paris snapped, but his heart didn't seem to be in it. She could tell from the strange distance in his eyes that he wasn't entirely dismissing Kashyk's offer.
And neither was she.
She looked over at Paris, wondering, Could I really ask him to be stuck here with me because of my beliefs? I already did that to him, to all of them, once before, with the Caretaker. Am I prepared to do it again? How could I do that to him? He loves B'Elanna; he has so much going for him. And the crew, how could they cope with losing both their captain and best helmsman? She recalled many battles where Paris's quick piloting skills were the decisive element. She could remember her solemn pledge to the crew that she would get them home. How could she ask this of him, of them?
Kashyk had circled behind her seat, and leaned forward to whisper in her ear, in a voice that chilled her, the familiar words, "You have no choice, Captain. I'm your only hope." The hair rose on the back of her neck.
It's a no-win scenario. Either way we lose, she thought. But then her mind drifted back to the quote of the legendary James T. Kirk: "I don't believe in a no-win scenario."
And neither did she.
Janeway looked back to meet his eyes, and as she gazed at him, she realized that Kashyk was as fallible as the next person. She had defeated him once, and she could do it again. She didn't have sex with him earlier for nothing. She smiled at him, with genuine emotion, because she knew that, somehow, she and Paris would get back to Voyager. Somehow. And Kashyk would be the key.
He seemed satisfied to see her smile, and inquired, "So, I take it we see eye-to-eye?"
"That's right," she said quietly, feeling Paris start next to her.
Kashyk's smile was one of relief, and sudden affection. She wasn't sure if it was a result of her agreement, or her change in disposition. In any case, he reached out a hand to touch her cheek. "Would you care to discuss some of the details with me later?"
She returned his smile. "Only if there are no tables in the room."
There was a strange tenderness in his eyes, as well as regret. "None. I give my word."
As soon as he left, Paris turned on her. "You're not seriously considering this, are you?"
She looked startled. "Tom?"
"It's not like you. You're under duress," he continued. "I know you, and you'd never even consider this—destroying the only means those telepaths have to escape."
She hadn't realized he was protesting on behalf of the telepaths. When she did, her eyes stung again, she was suddenly so proud of him. He's come so far from that convict six years ago. He was willing to remain in this prison camp for the sake of others. He had become an extraordinary person.
"So what is this about?" he demanded, interrupting her train of thought.
"Exactly what you think it's about," Janeway replied evenly, while making an entirely different gesture with her hands. She pointed to the ceiling, and then cupped her ear. He didn't understand and first, and then he finally caught on.
Bugged. This office was probably bugged.
He fell silent, unsure whether or not to continue his line of protest. She nodded for him to go on, though, so he continued, making an effort to sound like he still meant it.
"So you're going to help him find the wormhole. You're going to assist him."
She shook her head as she replied, "Of course I am. It's our only way home, Tom. How else can we cover 15,000 light years so quickly? And we won't be out of here anytime soon. And besides," she hesitated. "I think Kashyk is a man of his word."
Tom grinned wildly, like he was trying not to laugh out loud. "I think you're just blinded by your infatuation for him." He glanced at her questioningly, and she nodded her consent for this line of conversation.
"You're out of line, Lieutenant."
"Am I? I don't think so. I think he's influencing your judgment, Captain. After all, your little infatuation almost cost us the ship last time. Why would now be any different?" he stopped when the look on her face told him he'd actually struck a nerve.
"Is that really what you think?" she whispered, and he realized this wasn't part of the act.
"Yes, it's what we all think," he replied harshly, fervently shaking his head no.
She got his message, and they fell into silence. She dropped back onto the chair behind her, strangely shaken.
Kashyk was gentle with her that night, almost loving. When he finished, she rested next to him on the bed in his spacious cabin. It was her first time in a bed in… God knows how long. If she could close her eyes, and pretend the warm body next to her was someone other than a xenophobic murderer, then it was almost pleasant lying in the bed with his arm wrapped around her.
"That Lieutenant Paris of yours… he's a real firebrand, isn't he?" Kashyk inquired.
"That wouldn't exactly be my choice of words," she replied carefully, sending a suspicious glance in his direction. It dawned on her that Kashyk was basing his theory on the passionate protest he must have heard… assuming his office had been bugged.
Kashyk confirmed her suspicion with, "I get the feeling he doesn't share our views about this partnership."
She rolled onto her stomach, burying her head into the pillow, forcing him to reposition his arm. "Maybe, but he'll follow my orders."
She turned her head to look at him. "A question for you, Inspector. What was that earlier today?"
He glanced over at her. "Hmm?"
She fought down irritation. "According to Tom, you fractured two of my ribs and my collar bone." She poked him in the torso, hard enough to make him wince. "That's not my idea of tender, loving care."
He blinked, suddenly uncomfortable. He rolled onto his back.
"Gaharay women often use sex to their own purposes… they play a game. If it is a game they're playing, I make sure they don't enjoy it."
"And what makes you think I'm not playing a game with you now, Inspector?" she quipped. He glanced over at her, his face open and frank.
"I can't say you aren't." He looked back up at the ceiling. "But I'll take the risk. Besides, I usually follow my… instincts." He looked pointedly at her.
Liar. She smiled.
think Kashyk is a man of his word." "I think you're
just blinded by your infatuation with him."
"I think you're just blinded by your infatuation with him."
It was easy to have instincts when you were eavesdropping. She just was thankful there was no video feed. She'd been worrying about that since Paris had been taken back to the camp for nightfall.
Letting out a deep breath, Kashyk hooked his arm back around her and pulled her to him. He began to nibble at her ear. "In any case, I think I let you off relatively easy."
"And why is that?" Janeway asked coyly.
"I at least gave you some pleasure in return for mine. Most Gaharay don't receive that favor."
"I didn't want it," she snorted. "It was bad enough as it was."
He smiled sensuously. "That wasn't your reaction, as I recall."
Kathryn grew embarrassed and then flustered, remembering her body's reaction.
"Well, I won't let that happen again," she told him, her voice ringing with a challenge. What the hell am I doing? She wondered.
He took up the gauntlet. "We'll see about that."
He made love to her again, this time waiting for her climax before allowing his own. She fought hers off, but it came against her will. Later, when she was almost asleep, she told herself that she'd been pretending Kashyk was Chakotay, which she really had been doing, at first. But the image of Chakotay stretched above her had quickly been replaced by the very real Kashyk.
And as she drifted off, the warm satisfaction she felt had nothing to do with her first officer.
Kathryn Janeway and Tom Paris were relocated again, to Kashyk's ship. During the day, Janeway and Paris poured over schematics of the wormhole's previous locations, while Kathryn tried her best to figure out the next location. At night, Kashyk had her. Tom would sleep in his own quarters elsewhere on the ship. Always, after Kashyk was long asleep, Kathryn would lie awake in her bed, wondering how she and Paris could get to the wormhole without leading to its destruction.
They managed to regain possession of the Delta Flyer, now fully repaired, when she and Tom attested to the effectiveness of its sensors, claiming that they couldn't understand how Devore technology worked, and they required the Flyer to locate the wormhole. The Devore soldiers flatly refused to grant them access until Kathryn appealed to Kashyk's "common sense" one night in bed. Smitten, Kashyk saw the logic in her argument and granted them access.
Working together closely on the Delta Flyer, Tom said to her quietly one morning, "I'm sorry you have to do this."
"What?" Kathryn looked up from her work.
Tom's eyes hardened, and he glared towards the soldiers who were out of earshot. "I know it's hard on you, being with him every night."
Kathryn blinked. "Well, I appreciate the thought, Tom. I can take it a bit longer, though." As she thought about it, she realized she didn't mind it all that much. Kashyk could be charming company when they weren't both worrying about their own agendas. He was also the best lover she could remember. When I forget what a monster he is, of course, she reminded herself firmly.
As she broke out of her train of thought, she realized Paris's eyes were still on her, a fervent look in them. He reached out and grasped her hand in his, darting a brief, precautionary glance at the distant guards, and then whispered urgently, "If you want me to kill him when this is over, I will."
"I don't think the Devore would take too kindly to—" she stopped.
She was startled by the intense anger she saw in his eyes.
She began, "Tom—"
"We're closer than we were when this began; you're like a sister to me." He paused. "And I understand what you must be feeling. I know."
She could feel him trembling with emotion. She was suddenly worried about him. Very worried. She reached up to touch his cheek. "Tom, what is it? What's wrong?"
"I—" he looked away. He looked more desolate than she'd ever seen him.
"Talk to me, please! Whatever it is… I'm here for you, you know that," she whispered. "You haven't been yourself for a while now. Please, tell me what's wrong."
His hand came up and wrapped around hers. "It's not… not…" he seemed bereft of words to describe the horror in his eyes.
"Not advisable to fuck your captor's woman?"
The harsh voice behind them startled them both. Janeway and Paris spun around to see Kashyk staring down at them, his eyes flashing with rage.
"It's not what you think," Janeway said quickly, releasing Paris, feeling him do the same.
"And what do I think it is?" Kashyk asked, his lips twisting into a cynical smile below his hard eyes.
"What does it matter what he thinks it is?" Paris practically spat as he swept to his feet. "This bastard has no claim on you. Just because you can make her fuck you doesn't mean—"
"Tom!" Janeway said sharply, rising up, hiding her urgency behind anger.
Kashyk turned on her. "He's right about one thing, I have no claim on you, nor do I care to have one. You can fuck whomever you like, it's not my concern, but not while I have you! I won't take leftovers!" He spun to Paris. "And you, you're out of this. You're going to the brig, and then to the nearest detention center."
He gestured with a harsh flick of his hand for the guards to take Paris away.
No. No no no. Kathryn rushed forward and grabbed Kashyk's arm. "It's not what you think, he's just overreacting—"
Kashyk spun on her, and the look in his eyes froze her blood. He grabbed her arm in a bone-crushing grip, and hauled her behind him out of the cargo bay. She had to run to keep up with him as he charged through the corridor. He pulled her into his quarters and threw her down onto the ground.
Was he going to become violent again? She wondered. It made her almost reluctant to stand up, but never one to cower, she did so anyway. He was pacing back and forth, furious. This is ridiculous. And to have him this mad over something she didn't even do! If he had discovered her scheming, then maybe she could understand, but this?
She grew suddenly very angry.
"You bastard. You absolute bastard!" She picked up a small statue from a nearby table and threw it at him. He ducked at the last minute, and it shattered on the wall behind him. He charged towards her, and was in front of her in a matter of moments. She raised her fist and clubbed him across the jaw. He stumbled back, but was pressing in on her again in a few seconds. She pounded her fists against his chest. He was too close to punch again. It was like hitting a rock wall. He grabbed her wrists in his hands and pinned her back against the wall.
"I hate you!" she hissed, fighting him like a wild animal.
And then, in a burst of anger, he pressed his lips to hers, hard, furious, bruising. In that instant, it was like something took over her mind. She returned the kiss with equal force, and wriggled her hands free to claw at his back. They stumbled back towards the bed, alternating between kissing each other, biting each other, fighting each other; it was all a haze. She was blinded by rage; she wanted to tear him to pieces. She wanted him more than anything in her life.
They lay intertwined afterwards, trying to catch their breath. She sat up and glared down at him. "He's a brother to me. It would practically be incestuous."
Kashyk, breathing heavily still, growled, "If I'm convinced, after I talk to him, I'll let him work again." His eyes narrowed. "But I don't want to see you… cuddling with him again."
He lay back on the pillow. She watched him carefully. "Why does it matter so much to you?"
"I explained my reasons."
"Not well enough," she muttered.
His eyes raked her face. "Why does this matter so much to you?"
She scoffed. "Don't make me ill." She jerked away from him, and settled down on the far side of the bed.
The conversation left them both unsettled.
A few days later, Kathryn and Tom located where and when the wormhole would next appear. They didn't report it to the Devore immediately while they figured out their plan. After scanning that sector of space, Janeway located a spatial body that could pass for a wormhole if the sensors were tampered with. They could lead the Devore to that distortion, leave in the Delta Flyer, transmit the false sensor readings, and then change course for the real wormhole at the critical moment, reaching it before the Devore had a chance to stop them. They would set a timed shutdown of the Devore engines, so by the time Kashyk's ship reached the real wormhole, it would have vanished.
"Kashyk's no fool; he might suspect something," Janeway told Paris. "We need to make these… alterations gradually, with the utmost discretion."
"Got it," Paris said.
He worked on the engines, she on the sensors. By the time the Devore ship reached the designated sector, they were ready.
"This is our last night, you know," Kathryn murmured as she lay against Kashyk's bare chest in his cabin.
Kashyk smiled. "Yes, it seems it is." He reached a finger down and tickled her jaw. "Who knows, I may just decide to keep you."
She guffawed. "Try it and you'll regret it dearly."
He smiled. "Well, perhaps then, something will go wrong, and we'll have to wait for the next opening."
"That's better," she murmured, "But still no cigar." She lay her head down against his skin, feeling his heart thump against her cheek. "As charming as you can be, Inspector, I'm looking forward to returning to my ship." She looked up at him. "And I told you I wouldn't transmit the coordinates until the Flyer was ready to enter the wormhole, so don't even think about destroying it before I get there."
He waved her off. "Of course, of course. I certainly won't renege on our agreement." A pause. "I leave that to others."
She glanced up at him curiously, and he claimed her mouth in his. Pushing any worries or thoughts of tomorrow into the back of her mind, she appreciated what the rest of the night had to offer.
She stared at the Delta Flyer as it sat solitary in the shuttle bay, trying to ignore Kashyk at her side. Paris entered the Flyer, a bounce in his step, and Kashyk turned to dismiss the guards.
"Well, I'd better be going," she said. She started for the Flyer, but stopped. She turned back to face Kashyk, and suddenly understood the dilemma he must have faced on Voyager, leaving her in the cargo bay, even as he planned to betray her.
"Best of luck to you," Kashyk said. She realized he was waiting for her move.
There was an awkward pause. Oh, to hell with it, Janeway thought, and she swept forward. He opened his arms to receive her, and their lips met halfway. Janeway closed her eyes, relishing her last moments with him before he became an enemy again. They lingered in the embrace a few moments, and then she stepped away. With one last look of longing and regret, she turned away from him and started for the Delta Flyer.
She didn't look back.
"Ready to roll?" Paris asked flippantly, grinning at her as she took her seat next to him.
"Whenever you are!" Janeway replied jovially, determined to remain up. By the end of this day, she'd either be safe on Voyager, with the wormhole safely intact, or she and Paris would be back under guard, and thousands of telepaths would be condemned to die.
She gulped. It wasn't a pretty possibility.
The Delta Flyer slid out of the warship's cargo bay and headed towards the gravity fissure. Janeway prepared to transmit the coordinates of the gravity fissure to the Devore vessel, and tamper with the readings to make it appear like a wormhole. But suddenly, the console beeped.
"It's their warp engine…" Paris reported. "We must have been late taking off… the sabotage subroutine has kicked in." He looked up. "And they're arming their weapons."
"They must realize we did it. Well, it's not like we need to stall, so there's no point in these sensor readings. Mr. Paris, get us out of here. Set a course for the wormhole. Warp nine. Engage."
As the Delta Flyer jumped to warp, Janeway smugly imagined the confusion and panic on the Devore warship when they found they couldn't move.
So it took her by surprise when Tom did a double take of his console.
"Captain, they're pursuing us!" Tom shouted.
"What?" Kathryn demanded, looking over at his console. "I thought you disabled their warp engines!"
"So did I!" Tom replied.
"The sabotage subroutine kicked in… they can't be moving!"
"They must have detected and disabled it before it went off." He paused. "They sent us false readings."
Kathryn thought quickly. "If they're pursuing us, we can't go to the wormhole, we'll lead them right there."
"No good. They've already matched our course; they can follow it whether or not we reach the wormhole," Paris replied.
Janeway looked up at the ominous Devore warship looming behind them, closing on them. "Damn."
One of the consoles beeped. "Gaharay vessel, respond."
With a sigh, Kathryn opened the comm. link to see the glowering form of Prax. "You will surrender and prepare to be boarded."
Kathryn spoke to Tom without moving her eyes from the screen. "Tom, can we go any faster?"
He shook his head.
"Devore warship, we will not surrender. We want no quarrel with you; end your pursuit immediately," Janeway shot back. The image on the view screen changed suddenly, to reveal Kashyk, with a triumphant smile on his face.
"Captain," he greeted, with no hint of betrayal or even anger in his voice.
After all his talk, how could he not feel any betrayal? Unless…
He knew already. How the hell did he know? She wondered. She nodded her head evenly. "Inspector."
"I have no wish to destroy your vessel, so stop this idiocy at once. Surrender," Kashyk commanded.
She was still confused. How the hell had Kashyk known?
"I just don't know how you figured it out, Inspector," she said, stalling for time. "Are you sure you aren't a telepath?"
His crew threw him suspicious glances behind him, and he looked insulted. "Not if I could shoot myself, first."
She smiled wryly. "If we could only be so lucky."
Kashyk's good humor returned. "Perhaps this will enlighten you."
The transmission changed, to show Janeway and Paris hovered together in discussion. She recognized Kashyk's office from the detention center.
what is this about?" Paris demanded. "Exactly what you
think it's about," Janeway replied evenly, pointing to the
ceiling and cupping her ear. Paris nodded, and with a
different expression on his face, continued, "So you're going to
help him find the wormhole. You're going to assist him." She
shook her head as she replied, "Of course I am. It's our only way
home, Tom. How else can we cover 15,000 light years so quickly? And
we won't be out of here anytime soon. And besides," she
hesitated. "I think Kashyk is a man of his word." Tom
barely smothered a laugh even as he accused, "I think you're just
blinded by your infatuation for him."
"Exactly what you think it's about," Janeway replied evenly, pointing to the ceiling and cupping her ear.
Paris nodded, and with a different expression on his face, continued, "So you're going to help him find the wormhole. You're going to assist him."
She shook her head as she replied, "Of course I am. It's our only way home, Tom. How else can we cover 15,000 light years so quickly? And we won't be out of here anytime soon. And besides," she hesitated. "I think Kashyk is a man of his word."
Tom barely smothered a laugh even as he accused, "I think you're just blinded by your infatuation for him."
The images cut off, leaving only Kashyk's taunting face.
Janeway nodded slowly, feeling cold. "So there was a video feed in there. You knew all along."
"Yes, and a brilliant plan it was, if I were not quite so cunning!" Kashyk exclaimed on the view screen. "But, alas, Kathryn, I've outdone you this time. I knew you would lead me right to the telepaths," he leaned closer to the screen, leering. "And entertain me quite handsomely in the meantime."
Janeway swallowed hard. Paris's eyes on Kashyk promised murder.
"So surrender, Kathryn," Kashyk's voice grew softer. "You can't win, and I don't want to destroy you, or wreck that fine vessel in the process. I do enjoy your company, and I have no wish to harm that lovely body of yours."
Paris nudged her leg, and Kathryn realized that they were approaching the wormhole.
When she did not reply, Kashyk leaned back. "Very well, then. Prax!"
She'd heard him bark that name once, right before he intended to destroy her.
"Open fire upon Janeway's vessel. Destroy it." His expression grew soft again. "I'm truly sorry you made me do this." Then the view screen faded to black.
"Captain," Paris murmured. "The sensors."
"What about them?" Janeway asked woodenly.
"They anticipated the warp core tampering, but did they think about the sensors? Did they know you tampered with them?"
Janeway's heart leaped. "Of course, they don't, because we haven't transmitted the false readings yet!" She sat down at the console and began working fervently. "Try to hold them off. I'll tap into their sensor array."
She scanned the sector, feeling the Delta Flyer spark and vibrate around her under the weapons fire. The sensor sweep soon came back with results: there was an asteroid belt around a star not far from the wormhole. Janeway worked quickly.
"Inspector," Prax called, "The Federation vessel is altering course." Surprise tinged his voice as he noted, "They're heading away from the wormhole!" He turned his fierce eyes on Kashyk. "It must be one of Janeway's tricks."
Kashyk sank into his chair, studying the screen intently. Then, with a smile, he clapped his hands, shaking his head with admiration. "She will never cease to amaze me. Hail her," Kashyk barked.
After a few moments, Janeway appeared on the view screen, eyes hard.
Kashyk smiled at her generously. "Well done, Captain. I must say, I admire your nobility, your sense of purpose. You're sacrificing your own return, hoping we'll follow you-- to lure us away from the wormhole." He leaned in closer. "I can tell you now, it won't work. We already have the wormhole on our sensors, and we can easily find you after we destroy it."
Janeway stiffened. "You're making a mistake, Inspector. You don't want to do this."
Kashyk grinned, and promised, "I'll see you shortly, Captain. Very shortly."
Prax cut off the view screen.
"Where does she think she's going, in the middle of Imperium space?" Kashyk said to no one. Then, to Prax, "Take us to the mouth of the wormhole."
One minute, they were heading to the wormhole, and the next, the ship began to rock violently. Kashyk looked around, alarmed. "Prax, what's going on?"
Prax's brow furrowed. "This is not possible."
Prax looked up angrily. "It appears we are being bombarded… by asteroids!"
"Asteroids?" Kashyk demanded, jolting to his feet and racing across the room to check the sensors for himself. "The sensors don't show any—"
He stopped, suddenly sickened with realization.
"Check the sensors for any signs of tampering," Kashyk said slowly.
One of the engineers checked, and then gave a nod, confirming his suspicions.
"We appear to be off course, in a star system two light years from the wormhole," the young soldier provided. "When the sensors adjusted the location of the wormhole, the helm automatically adjusted to compensate."
Kashyk glared at the view screen. "So we were the ones drifting off course, not them! Find their position and lay in an intercept course— maximum speed!"
"Sir, I have a suggestion," Prax spoke. "There are other Devore warships in this area. Perhaps one of them will be able to destroy the wormhole."
"Send them a signal," Kashyk snapped, latching onto any chance he might still have to foil Janeway and redeem himself. He paused, and then added, "And tell them to try to get her alive, if they have the chance."
Prax shot him a disapproving look before following his orders.
"I think you may just have bought us the time we need!" Paris called to Janeway.
He felt her hand descend swiftly on his shoulder, giving him a hearty squeeze.
"No, Tom, you bought us that time. Brilliant idea."
Paris grinned up at her.
Suddenly, a nearby console shrilled. Janeway checked it, and paled. "There's another Devore warship headed our way." She looked up at the view screen, eyes burning. "We're never going to make it to that wormhole before they make it to us."
"The Delta Flyer is in sight of Inspector Krav's ship," Prax reported. "Krav claims he will be able to tractor them before they reach the wormhole."
Kashyk slumped down into his chair in relief. "That was a brilliant idea, Prax. I'll have to promote you."
Prax nodded solemnly. "Very good, sir."
The Devore warship closed in on them, growing larger and larger on the view screen. Just beyond it sat the flickering light of the doomed wormhole. As the proximity alarms began shrill, Janeway felt her eyes sink closed. They had come so far. They had nearly done it. They could have gone all the way…
How could she and Paris survive any longer as prisoners?
"Captain!" the sheer joy and excitement in Paris's voice forced open her eyes.
The most beautiful thing she'd ever seen emerged from the wormhole—the sleek, smooth, Federation Starship Voyager.
Her view screen flickered to life, and Chakotay's grinning face appeared. "Captain! You're a sight for sore eyes."
Her face broke out into a huge grin, and she felt like kissing the view screen. "Chakotay! How did you—"
"We'll tell you all about it. Right now, we're going to take care of those friends of yours and get you two back here where you belong!"
Janeway felt Paris's excitement beside her, and she laughed out loud. "Be my guest, Chakotay! Be my guest!"
Voyager's weapons sparked across the blackness of space, tearing a clean hole through the Devore vessel. Janeway and Paris assisted with a few shots from the Flyer, and then moved in to take refuge within the larger vessel's embrace.
"The Devore warship is disabled," Paris reported to her. "Voyager's locked us in a tractor beam, and we're moving towards the wormhole." He looked at her, his eyes glowing. "Captain, we're going home."
She leaped over to him, and he enveloped her in a giant bear hug. She couldn't remember feeling this relieved, this secure.
Kashyk and Prax had been grimly monitoring the situation from their ship. When the outcome of the battle between Voyager and the warship became clear, Kashyk retreated to his private study. Prax assumed it was to reflect upon another defeat at the hands of Janeway.
Instead, Kashyk hailed the Delta Flyer, and was greeted by Janeway's triumphant face. "Inspector," the word mocked him, and he gave her a wan smile.
"You created false readings," he said quietly. He paused, and then said, "I never lied to you, Captain. If you'd kept your end of the bargain, I would have kept mine. If you'd ever intended to."
Something softened, just a little, about her expression, and she leaned closer to the view screen. He knew she was moving closer to the wormhole, and that this was probably his last glimpse of her. He ran his gaze over her piercing blue eyes, her stubborn chin, and her lips, which always curled into a smirk.
"For what it's worth," she said softly, "You've made a tempting offer."
The wormhole was going to swallow her signal soon. He couldn't resist adding, "You were thrown back to me once, and perhaps you will be again. Can we agree on this— no hard feelings?"
She leaned back in her chair. "No hard feelings." The grin returned to her face. "After all, I won. "
And with a flicker of static, she disappeared forever.
Kashyk was angry the rest of the day. His record now had a failure he could never erase. All because of Janeway.
But when he reached his cabin that night, and found the bed still unmade, he could only lift a bed sheet to his nose and try to capture her scent. And then he didn't have even his anger or bitterness for comfort.
He just felt alone.
In sickbay, Chakotay couldn't stop grinning at her as the Doctor scanned her for pathogens. Janeway returned his smile at first, then grew confused.
"What is it? Are you really that glad to have me back?" she asked, grinning.
"Yes… but it's more." He reached out and fingered a few strands of her hair. "It's just been a long time since I've seen you with long hair."
Kathryn guffawed. "Well, don't get used to it. You won't see it after today."
"The crew is throwing a party for you two. Come with me?" he asked her.
She smiled. "I don't know if I'm up to it."
"I'm sure you're not up to it," the Doctor cut in merrily. "In fact, both you and Mr. Paris are staying in here another day. For exhaustion, and in his case, malnutrition."
She threw a mock glare at him. Right now, she was too happy to even fake being bad at the Doctor. "Come now, Doctor, is this how you treat crewmembers after they've been gone for…" she stopped, and glanced at Chakotay. "How long has it been, anyway?"
Janeway gaped at him. "That long?" She peered at him suspiciously. "You knew that number pretty quickly. Have you been keeping track?"
He shrugged. "What can I say? I've enjoyed being Captain of my own Federation starship."
She hit him on the shoulder. "And throwing parties for me without my presence or authorization.."
Chakotay chuckled. "Under the circumstances, I'm sure we can delay the party until you two get out of here, considering that you're our main attractions."
Janeway laughed, and her gaze began to stray away from him to take in sickbay. "Ah, so now I'm a circus animal—" She stopped when she saw Tom, still sitting on the biobed, leaning over to nestle in B'Elanna's arms. It almost looked as though he was weeping, from Janeway's vantage point. She couldn't see his face. It was tucked against B'Elanna's shoulder.
Kathryn's heart went out to him, and she hoped that he would tell B'Elanna those terrible things he couldn't tell her. Then, he could heal, in body and soul.
And after that, maybe she would, too.
She had to erase the memory of Kashyk. It would take a long time to forget that she nearly gave her heart to a murderer.
Or maybe she did.
"Kathryn?" Chakotay asked gently, touching her shoulder.
She looked at him. "Hmm?"
"You looked a million light years away," he told her.
"No," she murmured. "Just 15,000."
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked her.
She smiled. "Maybe… someday. Not yet, though."
Chakotay nodded. "Well, then, I think I'll just let you get some sleep."
He turned and started to leave, but Kathryn reached out and grabbed his hand. This was Chakotay—gentle, sweet Chakotay… always so honest, never devious.
"Don't leave me… please. Just not tonight."
He smiled, and his eyes held warmth her heart gladdened to see.
"I'll be here by your side, Kathryn. Always." He pulled up a chair next to her biobed.
As she neared sleep, he was still by her side. And the warm satisfaction she felt when she finally drifted off had nothing to do with Kashyk.