Stained
by Myu

Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and everything associated with it is owned by CBS/Paramount. Counterpoint was written by Michael Taylor.
Notes: Takes place during and after the Season 5 episode Counterpoint (a summary for which can be found here). I was a little flexible with the timing of one or two of the incidents in the episode, but other than that it was left as is. Another Janeway fic.
Rating: PG...well, sort of.
----

For some time Kathryn Janeway had been sitting at the desk in her ready room reading reports, conscious that her tidy appearance and studious air would immediately convey her image as a professional Starfleet Captain to anyone who passed through the doors. If they happened to look under the desk, however, some may have had their doubts. Underneath the cover of the polished work surface Kathryn's feet tapped on the carpet impatiently with her boots kicked off to one side, revealing one sock inside out and the other a slightly different colour. Even as she focused all of her attention on the information organized neatly into paragraphs on the padd, some part of her mind was constantly otherwise preoccupied - a restless part that was in disarray and whirring along in time with the beat her heels were drumming under the desk. Chakotay entered the room and spoke with her briefly about their current predicament, which involved smuggling members of a race of telepaths across a region of space controlled by a species that held hostilities towards those with advanced mental abilities. There was something about the whole affair that Kathryn disliked - the plan had been put together so quickly that she could only visualise it in her head as a scant handwritten paragraph with lots of words crossed-out and numerous notes scribbled in the margins. After they were approached by the telepaths, the briefing they held to discuss possible options was short and hurried and they threw together a course of action in the blink of an eye before the first Devore patrol ship inspected Voyager two days later.
Then there was Chakotay standing in the middle of her field of vision like the eye of a storm, except that there was a jumble of mixed feelings and unanswered questions plaguing her thoughts about him too. Chakotay had been her first officer, then her friend and then the lines between them had been blurred two years ago when what had begun as a heated argument after the annual Prixin celebrations suddenly took a fiery turn and the next morning she stumbled back to her quarters, resolving never to involve him in her own messes ever again.
"Chakotay, what is it?" She asked, not looking up from the padd in her hand.
"Him," He answered simply, referring to the passenger they'd taken aboard - Kashyk, a Devore Commander claiming to be a defector.
"You don't trust Kashyk?"
"No."
Neither do I. That's what's exciting about him, Kathryn didn't say. She couldn't pinpoint it exactly but, under all the warnings and common sense that years of training and self-discipline had instilled in her, something in her had stirred and was increasingly fascinated by Kashyk.
"Neither do I," She admitted, "Not completely. It doesn't mean I'm going to throw him off the ship immediately, though. We just have to cooperate with him without completely letting our guard down."
"We should place him under more restricted security. There's too much at stake here if he turns out to be a spy."
"Thank you for your recommendations, Chakotay, but I think you're overreacting."
Chakotay paused, rocking back on his heels for a second.
"Kathryn, I don't like the way he leers at you," He said abruptly.
Kathryn's chair bounced back against the bulkhead as she leapt to her feet angrily.
"You're out of line, Commander," She snapped, staring up at him with an indignant look. For a split-second she wondered why he seemed to tower over her so much all of a sudden, before realising that she wasn't wearing her boots. Chakotay appeared to notice that something was amiss, too - an odd look crossed his face for a moment.
"I'm sorry, Captain," He let the last word hang in the air for a moment as if to emphasise the distance between them as superior and subordinate.
"Was that all?"
"Yes."
"You're dismissed, then."
Chakotay turned smartly and marched back to the Bridge. The stack of padds spilled across her desk as they had been threatening to do all afternoon and upturned a cup of cold coffee, but Kathryn took no notice as she jammed her feet into her boots and stormed off to meet Kashyk.

Later on Kathryn stole through the corridors on Voyager, feeling like a teenager sneaking home after dark and hoping with every last fibre of her being that she wouldn't cross paths with Chakotay. Whether he be on the Bridge, in the Holodeck or hanging out of an airlock, she wished that he were anywhere except in the corridors between the shuttle bay and her quarters. The nature of her encounter with Kashyk was written clearly across her face, at least for Chakotay to see - there was only one thing that made her cheeks flush that way, and Chakotay knew first hand what it was. As she scurried out of the turbolift onto deck three she tried to force herself to keep everything out of her mind except getting back to her quarters without seeing him, but she couldn't stop herself wondering briefly why she was so concerned about avoiding him - why she cared so much about concealing from him the fact that she had been attracted to someone else. Once she was back in her quarters she found herself too highly-strung to even contemplate going to sleep and so she filled the bath and accessed some of her logs from earlier on in the year as she waited for the water to cool. Some time ago they had discovered a simulation of Starfleet Headquarters created by Species 8472 as part of a training programme for a plan to invade Earth. Commander Chakotay had infiltrated the simulation and struck up a relationship with a member of the species masquerading as a female commander, although he had never offered any specific details as to exactly how involved they became. As Kathryn skimmed over the entries she remembered writing them in a mood as bitter as snake venom and wanting to drive her thumb through the padd with every full stop. At the time she had blamed her aggravated disposition on the threat to her homeworld but now, months later, she was reluctant to admit even to herself that that had only been part of the reason.
Convincing herself that the slight chill she felt was a reminder of the steaming bath in the next room, she discarded the padd, hurried through to the bathroom and climbed into the tub. Rather than enter the water gingerly and give her body a chance to adjust to the heat, Kathryn slipped in and submerged herself completely so that the flush in her cheeks was forgotten as her skin tingled unpleasantly in the near-scalding water. Once the stinging in her pores had passed she resurfaced and watched the steam from the bath rise up to the ceiling in clouds, coiling lazily in the same way everything from her mind had evaporated without warning when Kashyk leaned down and kissed her. She lay back, driving her fingers into the sponge and hearing air bubbles fizz up and sputter as she made a futile attempt to wring out her uneasiness through her fingers. She began to scrub at her skin viciously, but nothing could wash away the images pervading her mind. There was Kashyk's face coming closer, his features distorting and meshing into a pinkish haze that brought unexpected swells of shame, sadness and regret rippling though her and left a slimy residue that no amount of frantic scouring could remove.
Kathryn clambered out an hour and a half later, her skin glowing against the white towel after having been rubbed raw. Her palms had slipped on the edge of the bath as she heaved herself upwards and her knee throbbed painfully where she had bumped it on the tiles. She felt around in the sudsy dregs, retrieved the sponge and squeezed the water out of it before looking at it more closely. The discoloured, sorry-looking lump was missing chunks of foam here and there and was near torn in half. She threw it to one side carelessly and hobbled off to find clothes to change into.

Minutes later she was still in her towel, shivering slightly and scratching at an itchy patch of skin on her neck where she hadn't rinsed the soap off properly as she skirted around piles of assorted items in her quarters. Two weeks ago finding clothes among the mess had started to become a problem, but now it was also a case of finding clothes that were clean. It wasn't something she could explain - keeping her quarters tidy simply hadn't seemed as important lately. Or, at least, not important enough for her to want to put anything away or run a cloth over the few surfaces that weren't cluttered with stacks of books, padds and dirty crockery (fixing the recycling facility on the replicator hadn't been a high priority, either). Kathryn had managed to find a pair of cotton trousers that seemed reasonably clean, if a little worn, and decided to ignore the fact that they had been pyjamas at one point. She had used the last of her replicator rations on a uniform poloneck that she really ought to keep clean for work, so replicating new clothes was out of the question.
Kathryn tugged on a piece of cloth under the bed and unearthed a dark blue cardigan that didn't appear to harbour any visible stains. She couldn't remember the last time it had been washed, though. Perhaps she could douse it with perfume and no-one would know...she sniffed the fabric cautiously and realised with some disgust that she had already done that on some previous occasion. She kicked the soiled garment back under the bed along with some broken replicator components and odd socks that had been dislodged. Once more she peered inside the clothes cupboard, hoping that by some chance she had washed some clothes and forgotten about them. The shelves were empty, due to her habit of only keeping clean clothes there - dirty clothes were heaped at the bottom for convenience. Finally she stood on tiptoe and ran her fingers across the very top shelf above her head. It too was bare, save for a small pile of some old clothes that she had grown tired of and had never quite got round to recycling. At that moment the doorchime chirruped and Kathryn cursed. She spluttered something about being there in a minute and threw one last desperate look around the messy room before snatching a horribly faded jumper from the top shelf and struggling into it. The doorchime sounded a second time.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," She insisted in a muffled voice as she stumbled towards the door with her head halfway through the neck of the jumper. When her clothing was in place and her vision cleared she jammed her thumb into the panel next to the door before the chime could sound again. Chakotay stood in the corridor, smiling pleasantly.
"Good evening," Kathryn said a little too quickly, faintly glad that her overenthusiastic scrubbing in the bath masked any colour rising in her cheeks.
"A very good evening," Chakotay acknowledged with a teasing curl of his lip. She found herself unable to look him in the eye and instead concentrated her eyes on his uniform, leaning against the door-jamb awkwardly so as to disguise her reluctance to invite him in.
"Did you just get off duty?" She asked politely, realising before he raised an eyebrow that they had been on the same shift that day.
"Er, no. Remember, we were -"
"Of course." Kathryn looked away in embarrassment and rubbed her neck self-consciously.
"What have you been up to this evening? You look all hot and bothered."
"...I just had a bath," She faltered as she was reminded of looking up at Kashyk - he and Chakotay were about the same height. Despite the bath she suddenly felt dirty and clutched at her ends of her sleeves as if to hide layers of grime from view.
"I'm actually a little tired, so could -" Kathryn stopped as she caught Chakotay shooting a look over her shoulder curiously and she sought a lie desperately.
" - I'm in the middle of rearranging things in my quarters." She fumbled by way of explanation.
"...I'll leave you to it, then." He gave her a brief smile and started off back down the corridor, "I'll see you soon."
"Good night," She called softly and clapped her face into her hands once she was back inside. Repulsed at her grubby appearance and disordered surroundings, she clawed at her arms in shame and felt the material sliding over her skin roughly. Once she could stand it no longer she dropped to her knees in front of the most cluttered area in the room and began to frantically sort through the mounds of her belongings. An hour or so later she fell into her bed and waited to feel better. The two biggest piles of junk had now been sorted into three smaller piles - of things to wash, things to put away and things to recycle respectively - but her quarters still didn't look any tidier and she hadn't had the inclination to sort anything more than those two piles. As she was rearranging her pillows she remembered that she hadn't hung up her damp towel to dry, but when she couldn't recall immediately where she had left it she rolled over and fell asleep.

In the night Kathryn woke and couldn't get back to sleep. She lay on her back and as she mulled over her day she found her thoughts drawn to her conversation with Chakotay. She fidgeted with a corner of the bedsheet and a slight mark on the material caught her eye through the gloom of the darkened room. She was scraping her fingernails across the residue - recognising the dark wine-coloured splotch as a spill from the bowl of fruit salad she'd been picking at earlier on in the day - when she suddenly let the sheet drop. Thoughts of Chakotay, the bedsheet, the stain and the fruit diverged with each other in her mind for a moment and then settled into an all-too-familiar pattern of memories. Kathryn threw herself onto her front and clamped the edges of the pillow around her ears as she tried to think of something else, but it was too late - she could already hear the rising tones of her voice and Chakotay's in conflict as they lurched along deck three after the Prixin celebration two years ago...

"Kathryn, don't bring this up again," Chakotay answered irritably, peering at the doors they passed, "Where are your damned quarters?"
"I'll bring it up if I want to," She mumbled bitterly, bumping into him as she followed on unsteady legs.
"Input your door release code."
Kathryn tapped the panel a few times and the doors slid open.
"Come in." She grasped hold of his shirt cuff and pulled him over the threshold.
"I need to get to bed, Kathryn," He protested, a hint of tired annoyance in his voice, "So do you."
"I'm not finished," She declared emphatically, "Where's the replicator? I want something else..."
"We've had enough."
"You're right. I've had enough of all of this." Kathryn threw up her hands and pressed her fists to her temples.
"So have I. Goodni -"
"- I've even had enough of being Kathryn Janeway. Poor, sad Kathryn Janeway. She's stuck on a doomed mission all alone, no hope, no point..."
"Kathryn, don't talk like this. I'm going back to my quarters."
Chakotay stood to leave but Kathryn blocked his path quickly and held onto his shirt just below the collar, snorting.
"You'll never get there. We had enough trouble finding mine, and that was only one deck down from the Messhall. Have the couch. Hell, have my bed - the sheets are even clean. Impossibly clean, in every sense of the word. I'm telling you, Chakotay, the worst that bed has ever seen is my insomnia. Nothing remotely sensual has ever taken place on this bed - not even Mark with his clumsy fingers. It's my nightmare bed of sanctity and it's always empty even if I stretch across it end-to-end."
He closed his hands around her wrists but couldn't release his shirt from her fingers, sticky with spilled wine and the juice of the Prixin fruit dishes. It seemed to be difficult for him to find the proper words to say and he spoke in sneering, sporadic bursts.
"It's only empty because you've made it that way. You built that...wall around yourself and now you're complaining when no-one can get in? You've had plenty of opportunities to relax, but you're determined to make things as bad for yourself as possible. Have you got any faith in us at all? The ship isn't going to fall apart if you renounce your chastity and hell knows I'm not the only one who's ever expressed an interest in you."
"I don't know whether you're insulting me or propositioning me," Kathryn hissed darkly.
"What would it matter? You'd refuse anyway, so I'm not going to give you the satisfaction. I'd even guess that you like being an empty shell."
The words echoed inside her sorely, resonating in the emptiness - the drained space within which she had protected even as she abhorred it. Everything else had been squeezed upwards to make way for this resounding gap in her middle and now it was all starting to mix and overflow. She wouldn't know afterwards whether she did it out of spite or to shut him up, but she wrenched on his shirt collar, sealed her lips over his and stopped his tongue from slurring any more hateful truths. All the centres of her mind fused together as he took over and she let him fill up her bed and her body. The barren void was pushed further and further back, leaving the remainder of herself and her sense of reason to congeal somewhere around her throat. She didn't give Chakotay a chance to draw away - she needed the swell of his torso to settle in the curve of her stomach, wanted to feel his weight crushing away the hollowness until she was completely flattened and she could show him that she wasn't empty, she might be full of hate and bitterness but never empty...

When Kathryn woke up Chakotay was gone and she couldn't pretend that it could have been a dream - there was a dull ache in her head, a filthy taste in her mouth and some tenderness of the skin lower down pulsing a painful reminder of the previous night as she moved around the room absently. The soft dressing-gown she passed around herself felt like sandpaper next to her skin and her hands began to shake slightly as she took the sheets off the bed. She remembered telling Chakotay that they were clean - it had been true, at least last night. Now the once-pristine white cotton was blotted with sweat, smudged fingerprints, smears of make-up and a few dotted bloodspots. She picked her way through last night's clothing where it pooled on the floor round her bed and gathered everything into one bunched pile of fabric, the white sheets tangled up with the crimson of the dress she had worn the night before. She had a sudden urge to crawl under the mound of material and curl up like a child, but knew it would never help - the cloth was saturated with the earthy stains of the adult affairs she had indulged in and, even if she had bleached every seam of the fabric, the sheets would never regain the spotless innocence and purity that had been stolen the moment she had pulled Chakotay to her with grimy fingers.

Later that morning when she had finished tidying up her appearance and her bedroom Kathryn made her way over to Chakotay's quarters, clasping his forgotten tie between tense fingers. He answered the door looking cautious and almost anxious, greeting her in a perfunctory manner and appearing somewhat hesitant about inviting her inside.
"I came to return this," She held out her hand and reddened slightly at the sight of the tie lying on her palm, folded neatly - she wondered if he would notice that she had pressed it quickly after finding it crumpled under the heel of one of her shoes.
"Thanks." He took the tie and twisted it between his hands for a moment - so much for having pressed it.
"Kathryn, last night I said some things that I didn't really -"
"Don't worry about it -"
"- I'm sorry," He said frankly, avoiding her eyes. He's embarrassed, she thought dimly.
"I don't blame you for anything. It wasn't your fault - don't feel bad." Kathryn meant what she said, but found it difficult to put feeling into the words. It was all my fault...
"I mean that -"
"- don't apologise. Just...leave it." Kathryn reached up and kissed his cheek quickly without hesitating. It wasn't much more than pressing her lips to his skin for a split-second, but she hoped he would understand that she meant to show him there were no hard feelings.
"Well...see you later on the Bridge, then," She uttered and started for the door.
"See you then."
Kathryn walked back to her quarters, trying to pass off the increasing numbness working its way through her body as the lightness after unloading a burden and not an echo of the impending return of the emptiness...

Kathryn woke up hours before her alarm was due to sound, even after the shortest and worst night of sleep in living memory. The analytical part of her scientist's mind was working overtime, disseminating and scrutinising her feelings regarding Kashyk. As she recalled their first few meetings she was surprised at how working together with him had somehow managed to suppress the outright hostility she harboured towards him when he and his team had carried out their degrading inspections of her ship.
It would have taken Kathryn a minute or so to think of the last time she had truly felt vulnerable, but she was certainly touched by some degree of it as she was forced to walk into her own ready room and find herself surrounded by members of an armed alien squad. It was difficult to maintain an air of silent endurance as the brazen Inspector Kashyk lazed back in her office chair, rested his feet on her desk and proceeded to rifle through her ship's database and taunt her about her position as an outsider in Devore space. During the third inspection she wondered vaguely whether Kashyk's choice of team in her ready room - always consisting of well-built men whose ridged brows loomed high above her head - was another intimidation tactic. As an inspector, Kashyk always seemed determined to break her patience - he would spend the duration of his time aboard talking down to her, making impertinent comments about her ship, her crew, her culture or her personal circumstances while the other members of his team watched her every move and stroked their weapons conspicuously. When they left she felt shaken - every time the sneering guards rummaged through her ship and the lives of her crew a piece of her dignity was stripped away cruelly and when it was all over a part of her wanted to crawl beneath the desk and scratch away the dirt of the shame they had brought upon her.

Feeling shame inching up the sides of her skin like a thick mud, Kathryn tore herself free from the bedsheets and stood in the middle of her quarters surveying the chaos as if for the first time. The sheer disorder in her living quarters certainly didn't help in alleviating the sense of worthlessness and dirty humiliation the Devore inspections had impressed upon her consciousness. She took advantage of the extra time to clear a space amongst the items littering the floor and set about repairing her recycler. After she was satisfied that it was working to at least an acceptable degree of efficiency she deposited bundle after bundle of dog-eared books, plates lined with thick crusts of dried leftovers and a handful of dried flower stalks she found scattered forlornly around a cracked vase and hoped that the mended device would hold up at least until she could make her quarters presentable. By the time she had to stop and get ready for her work shift the rooms weren't entirely clear, but at least all of the rubbish was gone and all she would have to do was put away her things and wash her clothes - and clean everything, she added as she ran a finger over the dusty edge of a shelf.

The lightened mood was somewhat dissipated when she gave up her efforts to make herself look less dishevelled and tired and went more or less straight to her ready room upon arriving on the Bridge, clutching a precious cup of coffee she had managed to procure from the Messhall. After cleaning up the mess on the desk left from the previous day, she picked up a padd and sat up a little straighter when she read Chakotay's name at the top - as it turned out, he had written a proposal for a plan regarding their transport of the telepaths which would include a series of safety measures to fall back on, should Kashyk betray them to the Devore. Kathryn looked up and stared into space for a moment. Do you trust me?, Kashyk had asked on the last inspection. Not for one second, she remembered answering. What had changed? He had drawn her in with a sob story, sealed the deal with a kiss and then run off. If anyone had come to her with a similar story, alarm bells would be clanging loudly in her head. It was almost like a tale from one of those idiotic romance novels her sister and aunt shared a mania for.
She read through the contents of the padd twice and then called Chakotay over the com system. He approached her desk a few minutes later.
"Good morning, Captain," He said a little stiffly.
"Good morning. I wanted to discuss two things with you. First of all, I read through your proposal."
Kathryn paused, turning the padd over in her hands gently.
"I thought it was excellent," She continued, "I want us to work on it together and brief the rest of the staff as soon as possible. Secondly..."
She paused again and bit her bottom lip nervously.
"Yes?" Chakotay asked expectantly.
"Chakotay, I'm sorry about yesterday. I shouldn't have reacted the way I did."
"I'm sorry I had to speak to you like that," He eyed her with a carefully blank expression.
"I'm not sorry you did. If you hadn't then I might not have considered your proposal so carefully."
They began to work and Kathryn was glad for the opportunity to immerse herself in a productive task again. She was reluctant to let her mind stray from the plan, as the complex nature of the mission required them to drill the particulars of every element over and over to ensure success, but eventually Chakotay noticed that they were overdue a lunch break and she allowed her thoughts to wander. She slumped down in her chair and rested her eyes for a moment - she almost felt like she could take a nap, despite the knots in her stomach about their upcoming confrontation with the Devore. The muscles in her fingers twitched involuntarily when she realised that she was relaxed in Chakotay's company - for the first time in days she was with someone who didn't set her nerves on edge, didn't infuriate her with smart remarks and certainly didn't ever make her feel ashamed of herself. Furthermore, while she might have felt breathless or even slightly fragile in his presence, not even during their most serious arguments had he ever made her feel remotely frightened or threatened the way Kashyk had.

Comforted by that thought, she opened her eyes and looked over to where Chakotay was leaning back into the seat cushion in much the same way as she was.
"Aren't you going to the Messhall?" She asked him.
"If it's all right, I'd rather stay here with you. I've missed your company."
Kathryn smiled and touched her hand to her face guiltily.
"I'd love for you to stay, but I used up all of my replicator rations. You'll have to go hungry, I'm afraid."
Chakotay sighed, giving her a wry smile.
"I have enough left for both of us."
"I'll pay you back." She returned the smile gratefully.
Chakotay retrieved generous-sized plates of food from the replicator and kept the conversation light until Kathryn propped her feet up on the coffee table while sipping her post-lunch coffee.
"You know, it's not going to be easy to pull this one off. There are about a hundred things that could go wrong," He commented, looking concerned.
"And dealing with the Devore is in my hands, I know." She rubbed her forehead with her spare hand wearily.
"Do you feel up to it?" He asked matter-of-factly.
"I've felt better about other assignments," She answered carefully, "But I know I can do it. I suppose it's quite simple, really: I act normally if he keeps up his end of the bargain, I play the wronged woman if he's a traitor."
"I wouldn't have thought he'd be your type," Chakotay remarked airily. Kathryn, having become accustomed to the light chatter of the past half an hour, didn't consider the weight of his words.
"And what exactly do you consider to be my type? Tall, dark freedom fighters with tattoos?" She retorted without thinking.
"If you say so," He murmured, giving her a look somewhere between interest and amusement. Feeling the threat of a blush, she averted her eyes and examined her fingernails intently, convinced that layers of muck were collecting under them as she spoke.
"He isn't my type," She affirmed quietly, "He isn't right for me at all."
"Kathryn, whatever happens today," Chakotay pronounced delicately, "Come and talk to me afterwards. The past fortnight hasn't been easy for anyone on board, and I don't think either of us want to be alone after this is all over."
"Yes. Assuming everything goes according to plan, that is."
"It will," He assured her, the smile in his expression defrosting a trace of hope in her. At that point Tuvok entered to request their presence at the final briefing and Kathryn folded away all the parts of her mind occupied with thoughts of her personal life in preparation for her final meeting with the Devore.

Somehow, following the plan seemed straightforward enough up until the point when Kashyk revealed that he had remained loyal to the Devore all along. Her carefully rehearsed reaction to his betrayal wasn't necessary - the disappointment was real, the shock was cold and the numbness colder still. She followed him through to a Bridge filled with his officers and sat down in Chakotay's chair, willing that whatever residual substance she retained would sustain her until she was reunited with her first officer. Somewhere in the hazy shell that had once been her brain, fragments of memory wafted past. She realised with some regret that, while the Devore had degraded her, she had tried to reassert her control by sinking to their level and flirting with danger. She had inadvertently smeared herself with the same filth she had despised in Kashyk's character and the scent of disgrace had been hanging under her nose ever since.
Kathryn sat stiffly and tried to detach herself from the situation at hand, wondering faintly if, on some level, she had convinced herself that her relationship with Chakotay could go no further because he was somehow too safe. She had been drawn to the irresistible kick of stalking around the uneven, hazardous territory that the association with Kashyk afforded and, next to the leather-clad Inspector with his domineering air, authoritative tone and views that bordered on brutal realism, the soft-spoken Chakotay seemed like a bland, submissive Starfleet skivvy who sat in his quarters with his pebbles and feathers believing in fairytale spirits. In her unfocused field of vision Kashyk's angular silhouette was ever present, looming darkly in the corner of her eye like a judge watching the proceedings.
There was some commotion on the Bridge and Kathryn quickly grounded herself, although the feeling of detachment remained. Kashyk and his team were starting to catch on to the deception, but her sense of triumph was fleeting and muted. There was some muttered comments, a vague passing sensation of surprise when she came to the realisation that Voyager would be set free, fumbled lies exchanged between her and Kashyk for the last time, and then...
And then all at once she was alone on her Bridge - presiding over a command centre with no command team to lead - and it was all over. There was nothing and it almost seemed like an empty victory, she thought to herself bitterly with a hollow laugh that didn't make it out of her throat. It seemed pointless to fight any longer against the fatigue that was weakening her muscles and dulling all her senses. She rested her head on the armrest of Chakotay's chair, too exhausted even to notice the relief sweeping through her from the moment she closed her eyes.

Kathryn was floating in the middle of a black sea when the water began to ripple sharply and she was shaken awake. Through sleep-filled eyes she distinguished Chakotay crouching next to her, face ashen.
"Kathryn?! Kathryn! What did he do to you?"
Nothing. Leave me alone, Kathryn wanted to say, but instead lay her head back down down the armrest. She was pulled from the chair and felt her kneecaps lock and unlock as her legs jerked along with Chakotay's step. His arm was across her back and his broad hand closed around the edge of her waist, reminding her unpleasantly that she was smaller than him. Fuzzy memories of Kashyk looking down at her pointedly came to surface briefly and she wrinkled her nose.
"Chakotay, don't..." She mumbled dazedly, lowering her head. She was steered down the steps at the side of the Bridge without comment.
"Computer, seal the doors," Chakotay called as soon as they were inside the ready room. Kathryn, feeling her strength inching back to her, broke free of his grip and staggered over to her desk.
"Belay that order," She croaked, taking a cloth from a cupboard and dragging it across the surface of the desk weakly. He approached her from behind and gently lay his hand over hers, stopping the cloth. Kathryn exhaled through her nose loudly as if she were annoyed, but in truth she was looking at the way his shadow engulfed hers on the desk and was beginning to feel trapped.
"The Bridge -" She started, but Chakotay cut her off.
"Our shift has ended for today. Now, is it all right if we just sit down and talk?" He implored quietly. Kathryn paused, thinking of the way Kashyk had pushed past her and jerked his head towards Chakotay's chair rudely when she had headed for her own chair on the Bridge earlier. She nodded slightly and the cloth lay forgotten on the desk as he led her by the hand over to the sofa. He perched on the edge of the low coffee table facing her and she knew without looking that they sat eye-to-eye.
"What happened?"
"Nothing happened. Everything went according to plan."
"I don't mean today. You've been edgy ever since we entered this region of space."
Kathryn looked at him for the first time and choked on a dry gasp as she caught sight of a bloody cut on his cheek surrounded by bruising.
"Forget about me - what happened to you?" She demanded.
"I had a bit of a run-in with your friend," He admitted as she reached over behind the sofa and pulled a medkit out of a panel on the bulkhead. She leaned closer to him.
"He's no friend of mine...but you started it, didn't you?" She asked, eyes narrowed as she studied the medical tricorder's display.
"I might have."
Kathryn began passing a small device over the cut and he could feel the sharp pain start to ease as the wound healed.
"You shouldn't have," She murmured, looking back at the tricorder, "If he had hit you any harder you'd have a fractured cheekbone just now."
"Well, I just hope he wasn't so lucky."
"I won't argue this one with you, especially since we know what happens when we get into a dispute." She examined his skin carefully for any trace of bruising and their eyes met for a second.
"It can't have been all that bad, surely," Chakotay mumbled.
"I think that verdict was decided when you apologised for sleeping with me," She uttered with a smile that ended up being more of a grimace.
"I didn't," Chakotay said suddenly. Kathryn stared at him.
"I apologised for the things I'd said to you. As for what followed...I might have been sorry that it didn't happen under better circumstances, but I was never sorry that it happened at all."
Kathryn stood up abruptly and strode down to her desk, her heart beating rapidly. She could recall their night together so clearly - learning that he hadn't regretted it meant she could suddenly no longer felt guilty about remembering it. The way Kashyk had kissed her had been so different - his chin had bumped her jaw awkwardly, her neck was turned at an uncomfortable angle and he had thrust his tongue into her mouth so violently that she had almost choked. His icy fingers had felt like cold stone hands gripping her face, whereas with Chakotay...
She turned around and found Chakotay standing in front of her, looking down at her tenderly. It didn't matter anymore that he was taller than her - it seemed natural and no more unusual than the fact that his eyes were brown and hers blue.
"I wasn't sorry, either. But I thought that you..." Kathryn dropped the tricorder on the floor and realised that, for the first time in a long time, the mess didn't bother her. She tore her eyes away from the floor and arranged her expression into more composed lines.
"I tried to move on, but back there...don't ever scare me like that again, Kathryn. I might have had to turn the ship around and go after him."
"You shouldn't have hit him," She said, looking straight at him and brushing her leg against against his inner thigh delicately. His mouth twitched.
"Are you arguing with me so that I'll do exactly what you did to shut me up?"
"Computer, seal the doors," Kathryn said softly. Maybe being safe wasn't so bad after all...
Chakotay leaned over and brushed her lips softly, resting his hands on her hips. She was completely unprepared for the intensity of the shivers that ran through her body from these relatively gentle touches.
"You're dangerous," She murmured breathlessly, finding the heat of his touch irresistible. She swept various items off the desk and he lifted her onto the cleared surface easily. She fit neatly into his arms and their bodies curved around each other as if they had been moulded for the purpose. In spite of the objects littering the floor around them, Kathryn felt her mind to be more organized and her thoughts more coherent than they had been before entering Devore space. As she felt the weeping wounds left by Kashyk and the Devore ebb and fade away from her skin and spirit a new kind of feeling cleansed her, filling in the holes and patching over the scars. She was completely secure in the throes of her dangerously passionate love for Chakotay and so deeply involved with the relationship that she felt permanently marked with the severity of it. It was something that she knew was cleanly imprinted deep in her soul, this heart-shaped stain of pride.

-- End --

Additional notes: This fic is the sixth Voyager piece I've completed and was inspired by Counterpoint (obviously) and Janeway's throwaway remark to Neelix in Mortal Coil about how she got "a little lightheaded" at the Prixin celebrations the previous year. I haven't ever actually read any Counterpoint-based fics before, but I'm sure now that there are probably several hundred fics identical to this one floating around. Strangely, I had relatively little trouble writing this and I don't really hold any opinion about it at the moment. Thank you for reading!