I'll confess it now: I was fourteen when I wrote this story (though I claimed to be older at the time). There are dumb grammar/spelling/punctuation mistakes that will reflect that; things that should be italicized are not and paragraphs are not necessarily separated from one another. It IS NC-17 (yes, I was a bad fourteen-year-old) and there IS non-con.

Feel free to mock. It's been nine years and I don't much care if anyone dislikes it now.

IN THE NAME OF LOVE

At times like this, Commander, I'm tempted to kill you. I could phaser you right here and not blink an eye, Kathryn Janeway thought, gazing at Chakotay from behind her desk as he spewed off reasons she'd been at fault in their latest clash. She wasn't seriously contemplating murder... not yet. But sometimes she swore he pushed her too far. Of course, she often pushed him too far as well. What was it he had said? "Kathryn, sometimes, you don't know when to step back." Well, same thing could be applied to him.

That was the last time she remembered him calling her 'Kathryn'.

Kathryn felt a rush of weariness run through her, almost allowing her confrontational front to slide away, but she managed to hold onto it by a few threads. They were always arguing now. Always. It didn't matter what they were fighting about, since they could pick a fight over anything. It just mattered who won the argument.

Today, it was a minor argument: the shift schedule for stellar cartography. Kathryn was arguing for three eight-hour rotations. Chakotay argued for four interlinking shifts. Other days, it could be even more tedious, such as a disagreement over the contents of next week's menu, or more important, such as what course the ship should proceed on. The arguments had started during their encounter with Species 8472. They continued ceaselessly from that point on. He simply couldn't let anything go unchallenged.

Take the objective view, Kathryn... you're not entirely blameless, she thought.

When she and Chakotay argued about whether or not to make a deal with the borg, the first time he had really debated with her about anything in a long time, she had announced, "Then I guess I'm alone after all," and sent him out. Looking back, many sleepless nights later, she hadn't been able to figure out just what her motive was for that harsh remark. At the time, it had seemed like a test of his loyalty, whether he'd follow her or not. Maybe she felt like he was contesting her authority, and so she had turned it personal... It's not worth thinking about right now, she told herself. I've got to focus on the matter at hand.

All these thoughts passed in the briefest fraction of a second, and she was aware that she was glaring him straight in the eye, after him having made his point-- she couldn't even remember quite what it was he had said about the Stellar Cartography shift schedule. It was just another fight, and that argument was melded in with the pool of all of the other fights they had recently engaged in.

A pool of fights. The absurdity of the metaphor almost made her laugh out loud, if not for the tension in the air in the present situation.

"This is ridiculous." The words passed her lips without her even realizing she had spoken them out loud. They were quiet, almost beneath her breath, but just loud enough for Chakotay to hear.

Still in his combat mode, Chakotay retorted, "It's far from ridiculous, Captain. I'm making a reasonable suggestion. If you'd just hear me out instead of seeing everything as a goddamn personal challenge to your position..." He faded off, standing up suddenly and pacing to the other side of the ready room, fists clenching and unclenching, apparently as spent as Janeway was.

No comeback instantly came to Janeway. She couldn't think through the exhaustion suddenly overwhelming her. "Is that any way to speak to your superior officer, Commander?" She asked, bemused as she lifted her cup of coffee to her lips. He spun around, a retort just about to tear from his lips, when the words died out. She wasn't looking at him, wasn't waiting for his comeback, but she was sitting with a more distant expression on her face as she slowly sipped her coffee. She almost looked amused, but clearly beyond carrying on the fight.

He sighed, deciding to follow her example and fall silent, sitting back down in the chair across from her. He didn't say a word, but leaned back against and stared pointedly at her, waiting in silence. After a couple of seconds, he shifted in the chair. It was soft enough to provide a certain level of comfort, but not comfortable enough to let one relax in it, or to let one forget about the formality of this office. He nearly smiled as he realized just how that could relate to the woman sitting before him. Finally, after a long, silent pause, he spoke, "I assume when you mentioned ridiculous, you weren't referring to this argument."

"Actually, I was," She snapped back, automatically taking on her combat tone when addressing him. She noticed him stiffen and quickly checked her tone. Softer now, she said, "I was referring to this fight, and each and every single fight you and I have had for the past seven months. Comm--Chakotay, this is utterly absurd. We argue on every opportunity, and it gets nothing accomplished! We need to compromise more... because this is useless." She gestured helplessly to the setting, the same room where the two adversaries had so often sparred.

"I agree, Captain... but you must realize, I've always been willing to compromise--" he began, abruptly cut off when her eyes lit up.

"I suppose you're implying that this is all my fault?" She demanded, squared off for combat once again, the weariness faded into nothingness.

He quickly resumed his defensive posture. "Not everything, but a pretty damn good deal of it, Captain!"

She took in a sharp breath to retort, but her comm badge came alive, "Tuvok to Janeway." She was grateful for the distraction, because it checked her temper. When the Temper took over, Kathryn could never be sure what might pass her lips, and it was probably better not to find out. She tapped her the comm badge, quickly to be prompt enough so as not to arouse any curiosity in Tuvok, but slow enough so it seemed to Chakotay that she wasn't relieved for the distraction, which, she privately was. "Go ahead, Tuvok." She replied, blue eyes locked with Chakotay's dark ones as the air around them fell still. She felt the fire still burning within her, and she wasn't going to bend in defeat to Chakotay, not in any battle of wills.

"Captain, your presence, and the Commander's, is required on the bridge." Tuvok spoke. A wave of satisfaction rolled through when Chakotay broke the gaze to glance down at the floor. At the same time, though, there was a twinge of disappointment that her attempt to discuss the issue had degenerated into a fight. My fault this time.

"We'll be up there in one moment, Tuvok. Janeway out." Kathryn pushed her chair back and stood up. Chakotay stood as well. He hadn't followed her cue and stood up after her, like he used to. Instead, it was a more independent action. Minor details, Kathryn, truly trivial, she rebuked herself for taking note of every little nuance of his behavior. She needed to concentrate more on the matter now at hand

They approached the door at the same time, both halting briefly. She knew he'd clear aside for her to make way first, in some sense of chivalry, but she didn't want that right now.

"After you, Commander," she said.

"Captain," he said with a slight nod of acknowledgment, a gesture Janeway recognized as his customary manner of leaving her presence when they had met alone in her ready room. His voice was curt, perfunctory, as he stepped coolly past her onto the bridge. She followed close at his heels, walking faster than him, reaching the command level faster than him in her customary manner. Maybe he had slowed his pace so he wouldn't overtake her.

"Status?" She asked, taking her seat and glancing down at her panel.

"We are being hailed, Captain," Tuvok stated, eyes intently focused on his panel. Then, with a raised eyebrow, he glanced up. "And the signal has a Starfleet signature."

"Starfleet!" Janeway exclaimed, glancing back at Tuvok in surprise. She quickly turned back to her panel and accessed the sensor array. "We're not detecting any ships-- where's it coming from?"

"A Class-M moon exactly seven light years away from here," Tuvok replied.

"Maybe you should answer the hail, Captain," Chakotay suggested in a quiet enough voice so only Janeway heard. A mild taunt.

Kathryn turned to him. Venom dripped from the words, "All in due time, Commander." She called to Tuvok, "On screen, Mr. Tuvok."

The image before her was static and jumbled for a few seconds before it fizzled to life. A dark, exotic woman filled the view screen. Her deep, velvety voice spoke, "This is Lieutenant Renhika Mehta of the Mercury to the Federation vessel. Please respond."

Kathryn took a step forward, hands on her hips, surveying the Lieutenant through narrowed eyes. It came as a surprise to Janeway that Mehta was only a Lieutenant, being the same age as Kathryn was "I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. I have to say, Lieutenant, it's a surprise to run into you out here. Do you require assistance?" Kathryn asked.

"Captain," Relief tinged the dark woman's voice as she took a step closer to the view screen. "We don't require any immediate help. I was wondering if you came from Starfleet... If you're here to take us home?"

"As much as I wish that was the case," Kathryn began, noticing the other woman was holding her breath. "We're stranded out here... as you appear to be." Mehta let out of her breath. "How did you get here?"

"We were pulled through a wormhole eleven years ago. The ship was damaged, and we crashed on the moon shortly after," Mehta explained briefly.

"Perhaps it would be better to discuss this in person." Janeway observed. "We'll be in orbit in..." She glanced at Tuvok.

"Two and a half hours." He stated.

"...I'll beam down to your moon and we can discuss the... situation of you and your crew?"

Lieutenant Mehta beamed with what could be described as genuine relief. "I'll await your arrival. Mehta out."

Kathryn sat back in her seat, chin on hand, as she scanned the files before her. She had read the quick overview of the Starship Mercury. The Mercury was a small medical vessel that had been on a mission to Cassok Prime to help quell the epidemic of Righellian Measles before she disappeared mysteriously. Starfleet had assumed that the Mercury had been destroyed and had written the crew off as dead-- just like they probably have written us off as dead, Kathryn thought with a sigh. She turned her attention back to the other file she had downloaded-- Mehta's personnel file. Renhika Mehta, was, for lack of a better term, nothing short of a wash up in Starfleet. She was an unimpressive cadet, vaguely placed somewhere in the midst of the bottom half of her class, a year before Janeway's. She was commissioned three months before Janeway. She went on to serve onboard the Hood, then something happened... Kathryn read over this part with interest. Renhika abruptly transferred onto the Stanton, a significant step down from serving onboard the Hood. She continued to be transferred from ship to ship, never at one location for more than a year or so. At twenty nine, she had been serving in Starfleet for seven years, which finally called for her promotion to Lieutenant. She ended up onboard the Mercury-- a medical ship commanded by Lieutenant Commander Austin Forbes, the very bottom end of Starfleet short of Base 76 on Mirani Prime.

She was vaguely aware of the chime ringing. Kathryn lifted her heavy head up from her hand and called for the person to come in.

Chakotay, eyes weary, took a wary step in, hesitated slightly, then barreled all the way in. Kathryn steeled herself and leaned back in her chair, gazing cautiously up at him.

"What can I do for you, Commander?" she asked.

"We'll be arriving at the moon within the next half hour. Tuvok thought it would be best if your presence was on the bridge," Chakotay informed her. He seemed about to say something more, but hesitated. It was a sign Janeway took as good, indicating that he wasn't here to start an argument, or else he already would have done it. The hesitation showed that it must be a personal matter. She relaxed slightly.

"I can assume that that's not all you came to tell me, or else you'd have told me that over the comm," she gestured to the chair opposite to her. "Take a seat."

He relaxed slightly as well, sinking his large frame into the seat across from her. "I assume you're planning on leading the away team?"

Something about this statement set her on edge. Eyes narrowed slightly, her mind taking on an adversarial edge, she replied warily, "That's right. What of it?"

"Let me go instead," Chakotay said bluntly.

"Why?" Kathryn asked.

Chakotay sighed, running a hand through his short cropped hair. "I have a really bad feeling about this whole Mercury business." He glanced at her expression. "I know it sounds absurd, but this is serious. I just know that something terrible is going to come out of this."

"So you want to go to... face this danger... instead of me?" Kathryn asked, softening up a bit. Then again, a voice in the back of her mind reminded her that he might just be using this as an excuse to go instead of her. Looking at his expression, though, slightly blanched with dark eyes shadowed with concern, his concern certainly seemed genuine... "Do you have anything to base this on other than a gut feeling? After all, it's not like we're about to engage a hostile enemy... These are Starfleet officers we're about to deal with."

Something to base it on? Yes, Chakotay thought. He remembered less than an hour earlier, how he had gone back to his quarters shortly after Mehta's hail... He remembered going on a vision quest, remembered seeing images... terrible images. Then one in particular, Kathryn... screaming. There was someone else too, someone he didn't recognize. A formidable figure cloaked in shadows, with fierce eyes and blood on his hands... And he was there with Kathryn the whole vision, his presence at her heels, growing closer and closer with each step she took. But could he actually mention this to her? He glanced into her blue eyes. So open to him... yet so closed at the same time.

"No," he replied earnestly. Nothing but his visions. He noticed her expression fog over, undoubtedly proceeding a polite dismissal of his suggestion.

"While I am touched by your concern, Commander," And she was... for sure. It was a great change from their usual sparring, "There really isn't much to warrant any alarm about this situation. After all, what could go wrong? Our people are down there." She studied his expression carefully. His eyes wavered slightly, and he grimaced. "If you'd like, I see no problem with you being a part of the away team."

His gaze flew back up to hers. "Tuvok won't have a problem with that?" Janeway shook her head dismissively. "He might... But we both outrank him, don't we?" She gave him a bit of a smile. "Does this prove satisfactory to you, Commander?"

He wanted to say no. His instinct screamed for him to keep her from going. He knew something terrible was going to happen to her. Instead, he nodded. "It's acceptable."

"That's good. Let's get on the bridge." Kathryn suggested. With a nod, Chakotay followed her out of the ready room.

Kathryn sat in the small, shanty shelter, fascinated, listening to the woman's story. Renhika described in vivid detail how the Federation starship Mercury accidentally entered an unstable wormhole. The ship's systems shut down and it crashed on the moon. The inhabitants had to make do with what they had and managed to build a life for themselves. Most of the crew had been killed on impact except for twelve of them. Four children had been born in the nine year period.

"And are you the highest ranking officer?" Janeway asked, staring over at the dark haired woman who had identified herself as Lieutenant Renhika Mehta. She was more attractive in person than on the view screen, but couldn't qualify as beautiful.

"Yes. Commander Xebo and Captain Larson were killed in the crash. And of course, my direct superior, Lieutenant Commander Cavin, died a little over a year ago." She sighed. "We've lost a lot of good people. The moon isn't exactly a hospitable place, but we've managed to make it our home."

Janeway cast a glance over at Commander Chakotay next to her in the briefing room. He was gazing rather intently at their guest.

"Do you know if this anomaly is still around?" Janeway asked, trying to keep from glancing at Chakotay to see if he was still staring at Mehta. She was rather surprised at her own jealousy. Why do you care, Kathryn? The man's been acting like a jerk lately. Still, it annoyed her to no end how Ms. Mehta would bat her very feminine lashes at Janeway's first officer. I'm just being paranoid. She assured herself.

"It was a highly unstable wormhole. I'd be surprised if it remained in this system any longer than a few hours," Mehta was saying. Janeway sat back with a frown.

Chakotay then spoke, "I see you've made quite a home for yourselves here. Is leaving with Voyager out of the question?"

She jumped on it. "You're offering to take us?" It must have been what she had been waiting for the whole conversation.

Kathryn seemed to be lost in thought enough to miss some of what was being said by Chakotay, but caught "--accompany us on the ship if you'd like." He was flashing Mehta an irresistible smile, the certain smile that he used to reserve for Janeway alone. Enough, Kathryn! Janeway thought to herself.

"Captain?" Janeway glanced down into Mehta's dark eyes as she stared up at Janeway, utterly innocent.

"Hmmm?" Janeway asked. She caught herself. "I'm sorry, what were you asking?"

"We need your authorization for the transfer, Captain," Chakotay said pointedly.

Janeway smiled to cover her train of thought. "Granted, naturally." To Mehta, "I would have invited you myself, if the Commander hadn't beaten me to it."

"Well then, it's settled!" Mehta slapped her hands on her lap as she stood up. "Thank you very much. While we have managed to make a life on that moon, it's hardly the place that I'd want to grow old on. I believe the others will agree with me." She shook both their hands, flashing Chakotay a white toothed smile and nodding to Janeway.

After they were back on the ship, Chakotay was the one who seemed lost in thought.

"Well, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We're going to have to work them all into the shift schedule," Janeway commented.

"Renhika's compiling the crew manifests for your review. You can determine the jobs once you get them," Chakotay said.

Janeway glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, then looked down to study a pile of data padds lying on her ready room desk. She tried to sound nonchalant as she commented, "Already on a first name basis, Commander?"

He glanced at her, his expression indefinable. "Perhaps." A beat passed. Then, "Lieutenant Mehta is an engineer. I'm sure B'Elanna and Seven could use the help in engineering."

"Maybe so." Janeway said. "But it still will be a bit difficult to work her in. And besides, there have been quite a few changes in starship design recently, even the last nine years."

"If you don't mind, Captain, I'd like to go back down to the surface to oversee things, meet the new crew," Chakotay said. Janeway nodded her consent. He abruptly left without another glance at her.

So, she's been in charge for the past year? Janeway thought, leaning back into her chair. She'd better be ready to take orders again.

Mehta laughed. Janeway couldn't help diverting her gaze over to the table where Mehta, B'Elanna, and Chakotay were sitting together. Briefly, her mind passed over a number of scenarios involving the three, some very suggestive, before she dismissed the thought. No, B'Elanna was more involved with Paris, and Kim at times. It was mainly Chakotay and Renhika flirting with one another. They could have some things going on between them, but then again, Janeway and Paris would flirt, and nothing came (or would ever come) of that. Janeway suddenly realized that Chakotay had caught her gaze and noticed she was staring. Fighting a blush, Janeway smiled and nodded to him, perfectly calm and collected: the cool, impassive Captain seen by the crew. Was it disappointment she saw flash across his face? She quickly dismissed it as he smiled and nodded coolly back.

It was normal now for them not to sit together. They had stopped eating together when it didn't involve ship's business.

She sighed and turned back to Tuvok. The Vulcan must have noticed her mood, for he raised a questioning eyebrow. Kathryn caught his gaze and told him with a look, 'Don't ask.' She rubbed her eyes. She was exhausted. She had found herself becoming increasingly tired earlier in the day, probably making up for the insomnia she'd previously been having. The crew rotations was starting to blur before her, and she dropped the padd onto the table and put her hands over her eyes, suppressing a yawn.

"I could not help observing that you appear to be fatigued." Kathryn smiled at her old friend, putting her hands back on the table.

"Your observation is quite correct, Mr. Tuvok."

"Perhaps then, we should continue this at another time," he noted. Janeway smiled at him.

"That sounds like a good idea." She stood up and began collecting the padds. "Good night, Tuvok."

"Have a pleasant evening, Captain," Tuvok replied, nodding to her. Janeway smiled one last time and walked out of the mess hall, fighting the temptation to look over back at Chakotay to see if he noticed her exit.

If she had seen him, she would have seen a man watching a red-haired woman exit, one oblivious to his presence, a mixture of regret and longing in his eyes.

Chakotay sighed and turned around in bed. He and Kathryn been arguing constantly. He had to admit, it was his fault as much as it was hers. However, arguing with her now was as natural as breathing. Over the years on Voyager, she had become his closest friend, with B'Elanna becoming more attached to Paris. When Kathryn started giving him the cold shoulder, he felt strangely alone. "Damn. Why does she have to be so competitive?" he said aloud, thinking back to the numerous times she had provoke arguments just for the sake of arguing.

It was one of the things that at attracted him to her. She was a challenge. That was it, initially. Soon, he found that he had much, much deeper feelings for her than he could ever possible imagine. But was it mutual? At times he believed it with all his heart, but it was ruined that day. She had stared at him with nearly tearing eyes and said, "Then I guess I am alone after all."

It wasn't the same after that. She never seemed to be as close to him. Kathryn even reverted back to calling him 'Commander'. Of course, he followed suit and began calling her 'Captain.'

Competition. That's what she saw him as. A conquest to achieve. It angered him. Every time they argued, she made it a personal goal to be the victor.

"I want a life," he murmured. That's what he'd always wanted. A wife, kids. He had begun to realize that as time passed that he'd never have a future with Kathryn. So, he tried to change himself. He tried to convince himself that he didn't need her, that he was happy as he was. If only his heart could believe him.

When Renhika came onboard, he even tried to see if Kathryn would have any reaction whatsoever to her.

When Kathryn had none, he realized that it was over. It was over before it had even begun.

He shut her out of his mind. Chakotay tried to forget about his feelings for her. She was his captain, nothing more. He developed his relationship with Renhika over the past month, even found himself falling in love with her. Or at least, it seemed like love.

Yes, she could be arrogant at times, but she was a strong woman. He had always been attracted to strong women. First Seska, Riley, and of course, Kathryn.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think about something else.

If he could just banish Kathryn from his thoughts...

He could banish her from his heart.

Janeway was sitting with B'Elanna at the bar in the holodeck. Around them, the crew was dressed in elegant 1920's gowns and tuxedos. When Paris approached behind them, Janeway grinned at him. "I have to say, Tom, you've outdone yourself this time."

He smirked. "Thank you, Captain. I have to say, I even impress myself."

"Shove it, Paris," B'Elanna muttered, but she had a playful gleam in her eyes. She was wearing a long, slim black dress, almost identical to the Captain's red one. They were tight and showed each and every curve. Paris discreetly feasted his eyes on both of them. This was an excellent idea, he thought.

He noticed the Captain's eyes casually scanning the room. She was probably looking for Tuvok, he reasoned. Her blue eyes stopped and her face froze. Paris followed her gaze, and saw Chakotay on the dance floor, slow dancing with Mehta. They both had their eyes closed and were dancing very quietly, oblivious to the faster paced music. It seemed like they were sharing a very intimate moment.

Kathryn quickly averted her gaze, lest she be caught staring. She smiled at Tom and B'Elanna. "I think I'll leave you two so you can get out there. Excuse me." She said, and turned around and left the pair.

Paris noticed her face still had the command mask, but her eyes were stricken.

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Kathryn was sitting in her quarters after she had left the party. It had been very entertaining, and she even had begun to enjoy herself as she mingled with crewmembers. The worst part of it all was that moment when she saw Chakotay and Renhika dancing together. They looked so at peace... so perfect for each other. It was actually a public acknowledgment that they had developed a relationship. Yes, it was over.

Kathryn had departed to the bar and had a few drinks of synthehol. At least, it was supposed to be synthehol. Now she seriously doubted it. It was just like Paris, to procure real alcohol. She felt giddy right after consuming the drinks, and accepted several invitations to dance by male crewmembers, not quite sure which ones. It was entertaining, and she even managed to forget about Chakotay and Mehta in her inebriated haze.

She hadn't even had enough to get most crewmembers drunk, but Kathryn only drunk alcohol every once in a while, so her tolerance was fairly low. Many of the male crewmembers who were normally shy and introverted came out of their shells and approached the unapproachable woman.

Janeway finally decided it was time to leave when one crewman had the audacity to slip his hand somewhere private during a dance. Kathryn bit back her rebuke, not wanting to cause a scene, then bushed away from him and mumbled that she had to call it a night. It took her about five minutes to get through the doors with all the people stopping her to say goodnight.

She yawned and sipped her coffee. Yes, she was exhausted. Kathryn was running some bathwater when her door chime rang. Who could that possibly be? She wondered. She walked over and keyed open the door, and was surprised to see Chakotay standing in front of her

"Chakotay!" He noticed that she had slipped up and used his first name. "What can I do for you?"

"Uh, can I come in?" He asked, glancing at the quarters behind her.

Janeway stared, uncomprehending for a moment; then she blinked and gestured to the inside. "Of course, come, come in. Excuse me for not asking." She let him in, the door closing behind him, "Find a seat, if you can-- excuse the mess. Would you like some coffee?"

"No, thank you," he replied. But maybe you could use some. He remained standing, his arms crossed behind his back.

Janeway went ahead and sat down. Just what I need, she thought. The first time the man pays a visit to my quarters in months and I'm tipsy.

"So, what can I do for you, Commander?" She asked, sipping her coffee.

"It's not a matter of ship's business," Chakotay said, carefully watching her. He would have preferred to talk to her when she was sober, but he needed to know now.

Janeway considered, and then waved for him to continue.

"I think I like Renhika Mehta," He eyed her expression carefully, wishing he could think of some words that sounded less juvenile. "A lot."

Even in her drunken state, Janeway felt a cold wave pass through her and her face became impassive. She took another sip of her coffee before saying, "And you're telling this to me because...?"

"Because I need to know, Kathryn," he said, with more emotion in his voice than she'd heard in a long time. He took a cautious step forward. "I need to know about us."

"Us?"

"Yes, Us." Chakotay took a step forward and took one of her hands in his. "You know how I feel about you, Kathryn. Despite all that's happened, nothing's changed. I need to know if this is it."

"I'm not quite sure what you're asking me, Chakotay," she said. He hated the fact that she was keeping up her professional persona, even during a personal moment. Still, he was impressed that even half-drunk she was able to think clearly enough to keep him at arm's length.

"Do we have any chance? Any at all?"

Kathryn met his eyes, seeing in them the loyalty to her. For a moment, she was tempted to say yes. After all, it was her life, so why not? His expression conveyed to her that if there was a chance, he'd put of Mehta to wait for her to be ready, as long as it took, but he needed to know.

Kathryn considered the possibilities. Yes, she did love the man, but it just couldn't happen. Not as long as she was captain of Voyager and he was first officer.

At her hesitation, Chakotay drew in a breath. He had expected to be turned down immediately, alienated from her during these months of tension. He became almost dizzy with apprehension, and he stared at her, eyes pleading. He watched as she drew in a breath to reply, held it for a moment, then answered,

"No." It came out simply, but it was the hardest word she had ever spoken in her life. Command, duty, protocol, it all flashed in her head. She felt a heavy weight on her chest, realized that she had said what she had. All the possibilities for her future, kids, family, a husband, went drifting away, gone like the breeze, gone as quickly as the tenderness in Chakotay's eyes had. He once again had an impassive expression, all that needed to be said had been said.

"Good night, Captain," he said formally.

"Good night, Commander."

And then he was gone, out the door as quickly as he had come. Kathryn watched him leave with a heavy weight of regret on her chest. Yes, she knew the loneliness of command, more than ever at this very moment. The realization had never hit her so hard as it did now, and she staggered under its weight. All hopes for a regular future were gone, and in this state she walked into the bathroom and turned off the water. Kathryn lay down on her bed without taking off her uniform and stared up at the ceiling. Sleep didn't come easy that night.

Chakotay reached his quarters with an emptiness in his chest. So, she'd finally said it. Muttering one syllable and ending his hopes for a future with her.

He kicked himself for even asking her. He had known that she's say no, so why did he go?

He frowned and sank down into a chair, not looking at anything in particular. Chakotay tried to think of Mehta, but his mind was too tired to think of anything at the moment.

He closed his eyes. Tomorrow, it all starts from scratch. He'd worry about everything tomorrow. He was too exhausted tonight.

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Integrating the new crewmembers hadn't been difficult.

They simply fell in the places of the crewmembers that were no longer with them (in other words, dead.) Mehta took over Hogan's job. B'Elanna was kind at first, but eventually took quite a disliking to her, reporting that she was a "pain in the ass" who couldn't get along with anyone. Others in the department, such as Carey, described her as a "snotty bitch". Even Seven described her as possessing "unmitigated arrogance which effectively hinders efficiency." Janeway had to remind them, repeatedly, that they were talking about a fellow crewmember and were to show some respect.

Mehta had made some friends, though, through Chakotay. Janeway was somewhat relieved about that. She tried not to let her own biases about Mehta color her judgment. She was kind to Mehta at every opportunity, and Mehta was equally kind back. Somehow, though, Janeway began to believe that all the kindness was somewhat faux, but she didn't mention it to anybody.

They had been proceeding on course to the Alpha Quadrant. She had been having discussions with the various races they had encountered about the upcoming space. Apparently, they were about to encounter the Bromaline Order. Janeway had gathered as much information as she could about them, which wasn't much. They were as mysterious to the races that lived near their space as they were to Janeway.

According to the information she had procured, they were a very powerful race with isolated borders. They rarely allowed ships to enter their space, and trade was highly restrictive. The amount of space they possessed was enormous, with no way to travel around it. The only thing they could do was pass right through it, which would take about two years.

There were a number of star systems, all connected together by main planets, or "Gatekeeper Planets". She wasn't exactly sure what these Gatekeeper Planets were, but they were the most heavily populated systems. There was rarely a Bromalian population in a system that had no Gatekeeper planet.

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When they finally entered Bromalian space, they had a reception from a message beacon.

"Put it on screen, Mr. Tuvok." Janeway ordered, turning forward to face the view screen.

A woman appeared. She had iron cold eyes and thin lips that seemed to draw naturally into a frown. Tan-skinned, with long dark hair and fairly normal features, she looked almost human if it wasn't for the large swell which traveled from over one ear to passing across her forehead, where eyebrows would have been, to the area right over the other ear. She began to speak, obviously a general recorded message; she had a deep, strong voice.

"Alien vessel: You are now entering the space of the Bromalian Order. If you have a commerce pass, you may proceed upon the designated route. If not, you will proceed to these coordinates," the coordinates were transferred to the ship, "and you will apply for one. If these instructions are not followed specifically, you will be destroyed. Go to your destination immediately. This is Border Watch, out."

The image flickered out of existence.

"What a kind, compassionate, and caring woman she seemed to be," Paris remarked with a smirk, spinning in his seat to face Janeway.

"Orders, Captain?" Chakotay asked, glancing expectantly at Janeway.

"Well, we don't exactly want to get on their bad side, from what I've heard," Janeway said, walking back towards her command chair which she had recently vacated. She glanced up at Tuvok. "Proceed to the given coordinates."

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They reached a small, but busy planet in less than three minutes. Janeway ordered all stop, and they soon received another automated message. It was a person almost identical in appearance to the female only that it was a male. The only difference that Janeway could see were the wider features and more massive body.

"You have reached Itari VII. Wait until you receive docking instructions. Failure to comply with the given instructions will result in your immediate destruction. Out."

Janeway sighed and sat in her chair. She hated being at another person's mercy, having to follow their whims. But in any case, Voyager had no choice. "We're a touch paranoid, aren't we?" she breathed. Then louder, "Mr. Paris, follow their instructions."

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She soon found herself sitting at a desk across from a Bromalian official. He seemed impatient, checking a small device that Janeway guessed was a watch and listening to her tell her story with half her attention.

"I see. So, let me get this straight." He stood up and put his hands on the desk in front of him, leaning towards her. "You are from the other side of the universe--"

"Galaxy." Janeway interrupted. He did the Bromalian equivalent of rolling his eyes before he continued.

"You claim you are from the other side of the galaxy, and want to pass through our space, not for any reason other than to pass through our space. Is that correct?"

"Yes, but-"

"But nothing. Your pass is denied. You'll go back in the direction from which you came," he said, turning away.

"But wait a minute!" Janeway protested, circling around to face him. "Why not!"

"We wouldn't want to have someone running free in the middle of our space, if you know what I mean," he explained it to her as if he was talking to a small child.

"I have only one ship. You have a whole fleet!" As he spun his chair around to face away from her, she circled around to be in front of him again. "There isn't anything we could do to you."

"I assure you, it is not your tactical capabilities we fear. Your ship is quite small, your technology primitive." He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Captain, but it's our policy. No one can pass through our space. The farthest we'll allow you to go, even with a pass, is Celtus, and that's only three light years away."

Janeway sighed. She listened as the man began to quote Bromalian regulations. She made a mental note to herself to talk to one or two other officials before she accepted his terms.

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Chakotay was in his quarters laying some vegetarian lasagna on the table. He glanced over at the chronometer. It was 1835 hours. He felt a bit apprehensive. It was his first real date he'd had with Renhika Mehta. At least, the first one they had ever had alone together. At the holodeck party, he had accompanied her, Lieutenant Meyers, and Ensign Crane. They had also had numerous group activities, but he'd never actually been completely alone with her outside of duty. In fact, he had only really had eyes for one person up until recently. Chakotay quickly decided not to think about her tonight. I'm going to have a good evening. To hell with everything else. Or everybody else.

The door chime to his quarters went off.

"Come in!" He called over his shoulder, lighting the candles he had on the table.

He heard the door slide open and her soft footsteps coming across the room. He could hear the smile in her voice as she drawled, "Candlelight dinner, Commander? How romantic!"

He turned towards her, and gasped at the spectacle before him.

"You look beautiful," he said, staring at her long, thin body with a skin tight gown that looked as if it was painted on. It reminded him vaguely of Seven of Nine's catsuit, only Mehta didn't have quite the... package Seven had.

"I'm not overdressed, am I?" She asked, and batted her eyes at him.

"No, no you aren't." He circled to the other side of the table and pulled out a chair for her. Renhika sat down eyeing the food on the table.

"Oh! I love lasagna! How did you know...?"

"Well, I didn't." Chakotay said, with a self-conscious smile. "It's just one of my best dishes." He sat down in the chair across from her.

"Well, I look forward to trying it," she said with a smile. There was an awkward silence. Finally, Chakotay broke it. "What do you think of the ship so far?"

Renhika glanced up. "Oh, it's fine, I suppose."

"You suppose?"

"Well," she paused, trying to think of the right words. "It's been quite a transition. I was in charge of our colony for over a year, not taking orders from anyone. And now, all of a sudden, I'm in a hierarchy again. It's kind of difficult, if you know what I mean?" She glanced into his eyes from across the table.

Chakotay's expression softened. "I know exactly what you mean. I was a Captain once."

She looked at him questioningly, and Chakotay told her the story of the Maquis, the Caretaker, encountering Voyager. As he spoke, the night passed and the awkwardness disappeared. Soon, they were laughing and joking like old friends. Chakotay couldn't see how anyone on the ship could not like her, as he got to know this amazing woman.. CENTER

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Meanwhile, Janeway sat in her ready room, frowning. She barely noticed when the chime rang, and didn't know that she had called for the person to enter until she had already done so.

Tuvok stood before her, staring at her with his hands folded behind his back. Janeway glanced up at him, knowing from his expression that he was trying to figure out what was going on inside her head.

"Yes, Mr. Tuvok?" She asked, moving her feet from the crossed position they had assumed, propped up on top of her desk, to the ground as she sat straight up in her chair.

"You have not emerged from this room since you first got back from Itari. May I presume that the negotiations did not go very well?"

Janeway laughed, frustrated. "No, Tuvok, they did not. In fact, they were abysmal. It seems the Bromalians have some sort of regulations. No ships, not even traders, can go past Celtus, which is not very far from here. The rest of the space is restricted."

"That is unfortunate."

"Unfortunate? It's ridiculous!" She stood up, frustrated. "They have at least a thousand different races within their own space, but they're all restricted to their own planets and under the Order's authority. So, basically, we're struck in a rut."

Tuvok considered for a moment. "We could go around."

"And add twenty years to our journey," Janeway noted with a frown.

"I am afraid I can see no logical alternative. The Bromalians have a very powerful fleet, and if we make an enemy of them, the odds of survival through their space are very slim."

Janeway nodded, still scowling. "I'm not prepared to turn around just because we've run into some paranoid SOB's." She stood up, glancing over at him. "From our long range sensors, how spread out are their ships?"

"They are more concentrated in the heavily populated areas. They do not seem to have very many in the more remote areas."

Janeway nodded. "I've been thinking that we might just have to risk going through."

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "That would certainly draw on the Order's disapproval."

"Maybe so." Janeway said, standing up and leaning on her desk to face him. "It's a risk we're just going to have to take if they won't let us through. I'm not going to tell this crew that we're going to have to have twenty extra years to travel. We have a long enough trip ahead of us already."

"I see you have thought this through and are fairly certain of your decision." Janeway nodded.

"I'm going to talk to the senior staff about it. Schedule a senior staff meeting for 1600 tomorrow."

Tuvok nodded once before Janeway dismissed him with a gesture from her hand. He turned and left, while she sat back and contemplated exactly where they should go from here.

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Chakotay stood up with Renhika as she started to proceed over to the door.

"Thank you, I've had a lovely time," she was saying, lightly. "There aren't many people I can talk to on this ship."

Chakotay grinned. "If they knew you as well as I do, you would. Have a nice night, Renhika."

She smiled, her eyes once again staring up at his. They had paused right in front of the door. This would be a good time to kiss her. He thought. However, she took the decision out of his hands as she leaned over towards him. His hands slid naturally around her waist as he met her kiss. Her mouth opened, and her tongue met his. They were both enveloped in the passion of the kiss before she slowly pulled away.

"Good night Chakotay," she whispered, one hand caressing his face.

"Good night, Renhika."

She smiled at him and left.

Chakotay felt elated. It had been so long since he'd even kissed someone. Well, since Reiley, but that didn't really count. He hadn't been in control of himself.

He went over to the table and began clearing away dishes, his body warm and his heart beating hard. Yes, he'd have good dreams tonight.

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Chakotay woke up. He had dreams all right, but not like he expected. He didn't see Renhika in them. Instead, they were dominated by Kathryn.

He had been standing on a beach. She was on a boat, and it was floating out to sea, away from him. He yelled for her, reaching out, even diving in the raging water and swimming after her. She just got farther and farther away from him.

When a huge wave came and washed him ashore, there was Renhika, mocking him.

He woke up cold, chilled to the bone. He wasn't sure why. He had forgotten his dream as soon as he woke up. With a sigh, he sat up and checked the chronometer. It was 0320. Chakotay decided to go ahead and wake up early. He replicated some coffee and turned on the sonic shower. He was too awake to fall asleep again, but too tired to wake up completely.

Ah, well. It wouldn't affect him until later in the day.

He was exhausted. He was indeed affected by his lack of sleep. Chakotay wondered how Janeway dealt with her insomnia. She was talking, directing the staff meeting, as usual. Chakotay remembered reading somewhere that it was supposed to be the first officer who ran the meetings and the captain who sat and observed, but Janeway didn't seem to care. She not only did her job, but she did the jobs of half the other people on the ship. Of course, Seven of Nine seemed to be closing in on that area, so perhaps Kathryn wouldn't do everyone's job anymore.

He had been trying to focus on what was being said, but he couldn't seem to keep all his attention on the meeting. His mind kept drifting off. He made plans to sleep as soon as his shift was over.

His attention was piqued when Janeway mentioned forcing their way through the Bromaline Order's space. Chakotay listened to her reasoning and decided that she had thought it out well. The crew seemed to take it well. There was a pause as they waited for Chakotay to voice his objections as he did so often, but heard nothing. Half surprised at his cooperation, Janeway dismissed the senior staff.

"Commander, will you please wait a minute?" She called after him. Chakotay halted and turned back to face her.

"Is there something wrong?" She asked.

"Why do you ask?"

"You seem awfully quiet and you look exhausted," Janeway said, sitting back in her chair, staring at him with a gaze that seemed to bear right into his soul.

"There's nothing wrong, Captain. I just didn't get very much sleep last night," He replied, oblivious to the surprise that registered on her face for a moment.

"I was planning on working a bit longer than usual tonight. If you want to end your shift early..." She didn't go on, not deeming it necessary. Chakotay smiled gratefully.

"Thanks. I think I'll do that," he said. "Am I dismissed?"

Janeway nodded her head, and he left. She sat there staring after him for a moment. 'I didn't get very much sleep last night.' Does that mean he and Mehta...? She didn't answer the question, feeling a strange numbness coming over her. She knew he'd been with her last night. She had no idea whether or not they had... the thought made everything in her come to a momentary stand-still. Almost shakily, Janeway got up and left the briefing room. She walked straight across the bridge to her ready room and replicated some coffee.

She inhaled the aroma, trying to take her mind off the many possibilities rolling around in her head. Stop it! She thought to herself. You've got no claim to him, remember? You lost anything that you might have had a few nights ago!

Therefore, Janeway took up the information on the Bromaline Order that Tuvok had obtained and tried to stop thinking the thoughts that crept into her head.

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Renhika frowned when the computer gave Chakotay's location. The briefing room. She knew the senior staff meeting was over because of B'Elanna's appearance in engineering. So why was he still there?

She asked the computer who was in the briefing room with him.

It was the Captain.

He has something for her, she thought. She had heard the crew mention it in passing, Paris's wagers with fellow crewmembers on whether or not they'd get involved with one another. She smiled privately. I haven't heard any of that lately. It was true. Ever since she had started dating Chakotay, the wagers had shifted to how long it would be until Janeway dumped her first officer out the nearest airlock.

Chakotay was hers. Renhika could tell it already. From the first day she had met him, she had been attracted to him. She knew he was the one for her. In all her life, no man had made her feel like he did. He made her feel cared about, a security she'd never had before. Oh, he was a good catch. She had been after him from day one, and now he was following suit, sitting up a little straighter, eyes a little brighter as she approached him. I'm not going to let that autocratic bitch take him away, not after how much I've put into this. Renhika knew that after a certain amount of time, he'd forget all about Janeway. He had to. Everyone she had seen before had eventually forgot the others they cared about. She would triumph.

It was only a matter of time.

TBC