Disclaimer: The characters are not mine; they never will be. They belong to Paramount, and I, quite sadly, make no money from this.
Author's (Long) Note: No more fluff! This is one I actually like, and I never would have done it if Chesh hadn't asked for it. So despite the growling and temper tantrums when you first requested it, Chesh….THANK YOU! This was for you but ended up being as much for me, and I'm grateful for the prompt (now). :D
Anyway, she asked for a Janeway reaction piece to Repression, and that is what this is. Basically, in her words, "there's no way she would have just let that…go." I agreed. So this is my take on appearances in Repression, with Chesh's beta influence, of course. There are plenty of these out there already, I know…just throwing mine onto the pile.
And it gets considerably dark in here but it doesn't stay that way the whole time…promise. Virtually no violence or anything…virtually ;)
He'd looked at her like she was nothing.
That was what killed her, as surely as if Tuvok had depressed that trigger. It wasn't even that he'd been capable of it. That he'd been capable of ordering Tuvok to do it – okay, so that was a large part of it – but that part was something she couldn't even begin to think about on top of the first, gut-wrenching fact. All things considered, it was the first that had slain her. It was the fact that…
He'd looked at her like she was nothing.
Six years. Six years of living with, serving beside him. Of depending on his steady guidance and unfailing support. Of trusting him to have her back. Of trusting him with her life. Six years of sharing that life with him. Of sharing her hopes, her fears and her concerns with him the way she rarely did even with her older friend, Tuvok. Six years of knowing that no matter how tough the universe wanted to play today, no matter what kind of would-be catastrophes came cascading down over head like a deluge of disaster, certain failure and death, she could face any of it standing strong with him beside her, could pull her ship through one last time. Six years. And yet he'd looked at her like–
Her head jerked up sharply through the haze of numbness that had descended over her since that moment. A protective haze that she was sure was keeping her from acknowledging the depth of it all in some way, but a haze that she resented nonetheless.
She was the captain. She needed to be omnipresent, omni-aware of every nuance of activity that occurred on and around her ship. Failing that, she at least needed to be sharp, to have her wits about her. She needed to know who and what was where on her ship at all times, now more than ever, and she didn't need to be so out of synch with her surroundings that she was startled by the random appearance of a member of her crew.
Least of all a member of her crew that her traitorous mind had just allowed her to forget, however briefly, that she was supposed to be meeting at this late hour.
She caught herself with a sharp internal rebuke, settled herself with superhuman speed before speaking.
"Tuvok," she acknowledged cordially as the tall, strong presence of her chief security officer fell into stride beside her.
She was strongly tempted to scrutinize him, to determine whether he was completely recovered or just pretending at it. She was strongly tempted to look into his familiar dark eyes just so that she could read the remorse he would deny but the remorse she so desperately needed to see at this moment.
She kept her eyes forward, intent upon her destination. She was the captain. She needed nothing.
"Status," she clipped out automatically. That was, first and foremost, their immediate concern.
He understood this, had expected and prepared his response with precision.
She listened to his succinct report. The ship was fine. Repair crews had seen to that all afternoon, repairing phaser damage to bulkheads and equipment until not a single hyperspanner was out of place. The odd modifications and the stripping of computer terminals from the crew quarters on Deck Nine, section 17 alpha had been reversed, the panels reinstalled. Her usurped command codes were restored, as was every other change Chakotay had made to the computer while in control of the ship. The doctor had seen to repairing all neurological damage of those afflicted with Teero's mind control, and further, had repaired all physical damage to the rest of the crew – phaser or otherwise. Everyone was in his or her right mind and perfectly healthy. The ship had reverted back to its original course away from the planet Chakotay had been intending to drop her on, and all was well in that regard. In essence, Voyager was precisely as it had been before "the incident".
"Good." It was. Slowly, her ship could begin returning to normal again. "And remind me later to ask Commander Chakotay what in hell he was trying to do on Deck Nine." She'd been meaning to all day, since she'd seen the reports. But that would have required seeking him out. Something she hadn't been inclined to do if she didn't have to.
Tuvok said nothing. Merely nodded, lapsing into silence as they entered the 'lift and she voiced their destination. She forced her lips into an easy smile, well aware that her old and steady friend had not felt the need to restrain his impulse to study his companion the way that she had. Well aware of his piercing scrutiny.
"Ready for a thrilling evening?" she quipped. As much to break the silence as to effectively distract him from that intensive study.
It worked. At least a little. He shifted slightly. "Indeed," was all he allowed.
She could hear his mental grimace, even if she couldn't see it on his stoic face. If she enjoyed it perhaps a fraction more than she should have, she could hardly be faulted for it, given recent events. She hadn't caused this. No matter that they had been under intensive mind control, it was the actions of he and Chakotay that had made attending Tom's twentieth century viewing – of some movie she could neither remember the title to nor wanted to – a necessity.
Nonetheless, it wasn't Tuvok's fault, either, she reminded herself sharply. He'd pulled through in the end.
She tempered her verbal response with gentle teasing accordingly. "I'm sure it won't be so bad. Given that the event is open to all crewmembers, I ordered Tom to exercise extreme discretion in his viewing selection. I'm sure those of us who don't share his obsession with the era will be bored to tears, but there shouldn't be anything too shocking to your Vulcan sensibilities, at least."
He turned to throw her a look of pointed significance at that, his Vulcan brow rising. "I believe you underestimate Lieutenant Paris's abilities to ensure maximum discomfort to those less enthusiastic about participating in purely social events."
"Maybe." Probably. Another wry smile was wrung from her lips at his droll aura of pained endurance. It almost felt natural.
He was right. If anything, Paris usually went out of his way to make sure his Vulcan superior officer felt uncomfortable. His heart was arguably in the right place in his perpetual efforts to get Tuvok to "loosen up" for the sake of the rest of the crew. Frankly, she agreed with the sentiment to some extent. Generally, she was a poor ally to his affronted Vulcan dignity. And she had no intention of being a better one this evening, either.
Tonight wasn't about Tuvok's comfort. It wasn't about hers, either. And it was going to take nothing less than everything she had to put on the show for her crew that she about to. This was nothing less than duty, for both of them.
The ship and its crew were physically restored, yes. Now it was the emotional fallout, the confidence that had been shaken in just about everyone, that became their primary focus.
Hence their destination.
For the sake of the crew as a whole, restoring at least the appearance of an unbroken chain of command and camaraderie among their leadership was essential. And although it perhaps didn't sound important, this phase of their responsibility was of no less importance than the first had been.
In a military-style hierarchy like the one Starfleet employed, it wasn't until one became a commanding officer that one truly noticed, or realized, the importance of appearance. Appearance was reality. It had power almost absolute.
Voyager was no exception, was, if anything, a stronger example of that rule. Particularly in this uncharted part of space, where they were cut off from support and had only their leaders to rely on for security and to fuel their own confidence in Voyager's ability to make it home.
To an extent, appearance was what sustained her crew. The lower decks, who had limited daily access to the senior staff, only knew what they saw, and so what they saw needed to be exactly what the senior staff wanted them to see. Confidence. Seamless leadership. Capability and superhuman strength. Endurance and especially resilience. Nothing less than this would enable the crew to endure this harsh quadrant. That infallible image of their superiors was what had kept them going through insurmountable odds, through crises unending.
Voyager's senior staff was aware of it, too. They knew they needed to appear united, to work as an unbroken, impenetrable unit, and so they did. Those few elite knew it was imperative that the crew see a seamless synergy between them. So, even at times when there was discord between them, they suppressed it for the sake of the general crew…at least in public. Realizing the importance of doing so alone often helped to mitigate some of the worst blow-outs, to cut them off at the head before they grew unmanageable. To keep them together, through thick and thin.
Even she was not immune to the ever-powerful influence of appearance on Voyager. It was a pain in the ass to maintain, but she made sure it worked for her, rather than against her. It helped her, served to strengthen her. Playing the part enabled her to become the part. She appeared strong, infallible, so she was. And when she wasn't, she more often than not became so by virtue of having to appear that way.
She knew that playing the part of having moved on tonight, of having dealt with and brushed off the events of today as inconsequential, would no doubt help her to actually get there behind closed doors. Tonight, she would at least appear to have completely forgiven and forgotten the betrayal...the mutiny that had been orchestrated by her two right-hand men. And later, she would be able to convince herself that it was true. Soon enough, it would become true.
But it was a double-edged sword, sometimes, appearance, and it ate at her now. Appearance was reality. Chakotay had looked at her like she was nothing.
Therefore, she was nothing. Not to him, anyway.
They'd reached the holodeck, and people were already arriving. Showtime. She turned to Tuvok for the first time since he'd joined her, to fully look at him, ready with her "everything's just peachy" smile. The smile almost caught in her throat as she locked eyes with him directly. As his familiar face came into clear and present focus.
Tuvok raised the phaser. Pointed it at her. At her. He locked eyes with her.
You're in control of your actions. Not Chakotay, and not Teero. Don't do this.
His finger depressed on the trigger, firing the shot that would end her life…
She forced the smile wider. Forced her eyes to brighten. Act as if. She acted as if she'd seen nothing, acted like she could breathe. Like the wound that single action had caused to her aching soul had been less than lethal. She smiled and placed her hand on his arm, warmly, and ushered him forward.
The picture of reconciliation. She saw the relief in the eyes of the two crewmen they encountered on the way through the door, and she knew that what she was doing was necessary. This was right.
"Captain." Tuvok hesitated, surprising her. "If you'll excuse me a few moments. I believe Lieutenant Parsons has a security report I have been waiting for. I will return when we have finished discussing his findings."
They'd both been waiting for that report. The report that proposed how to put safeguards in place against this sort of thing happening in the future. She glanced over her shoulder to find the crewman in question standing meters away in the hall, conspicuously trying not to look like he was staring, and she offered the tow-headed man a smile as he failed miserably in that effort. Inclined her head in his direction. "Of course." Another wry smile as she patted Tuvok's retreating arm. "And don't worry…I'll get us good seats. Because you are returning when you're finished."
He paused. Turned back to her with raised brow and stoic air. "I will endeavor to return promptly. In order not to miss a moment of the…'entertainment'."
Through the ever-present smile, she narrowed her eyes in consideration. "That was sarcasm, wasn't it?"
"Indeed," he agreed.
"Ten minutes," she cautioned sweetly. "Fifteen at the most."
He looked less than appreciative of her generosity as she left him to enter the holodeck. Only a few people had stopped by, surprisingly. She had hoped to see more people, but the feature wasn't scheduled to start for several minutes yet. More would undoubtedly trickle in soon.
Taking a quick survey of the room, she chose a spot in the middle, more towards the front. Chakotay wasn't here yet. She was actually relieved, as she spent a full moment peering at the seat cushion, which was folded up against the backrest. Frowning slightly, she pushed lightly down on the seat. It moved with her hand, but the second she let go, snapped up again. What the hell? She glanced up, but no one had noticed her confusion. It must need her weight to keep it compliant. Shrugging off her annoyance at Paris's utterly irritating love of authenticity, she settled herself into the odd, extremely uncomfortable chair. It did lock into place as she sat, as the click told her. She should have pushed harder, apparently.
She spent a crucial PR minute talking to B'Elanna when she was approached, as previously orchestrated, and by the time B'Elanna had migrated away to look for Tom, their master of ceremonies so to speak, Tuvok had found her again, was making his way down the aisle she'd selected. She waved him over.
"I saved you a seat."
He merely grunted in reply. Resigned to enduring his fate as he pushed down on the chair, settling in beside her. "How long is this…entertainment?"
"I'm not sure." And why resist the impulse? "Tom said something about a double feature."
If Vulcans groaned, he would've at that. Not that this was her idea of a relaxing evening, either, but it was necessary. She glanced around, but her gaze fell on her own hands. Upon entering, someone had handed her a pair of flimsy white glasses. She had no idea what they were for, but she'd taken them anyway. She would get into the spirit of things. Staring at them in bemusement, she set them back down in her lap.
No one sat directly beside them. With the noise of the theater, she judged that their conversation was in no danger of being overheard. She leaned into the man who had looked her in the eye and pointed a phaser at her not seven hours ago and fired the shot he'd apparently known would not end her life – even if she hadn't. He'd been in control of himself when he'd fired that weapon, she'd deduced, or else he wouldn't have mind-melded with Chakotay only moments afterward. Which begged the question…
"I've been meaning to ask you." Every time she'd seen him since it happened. Every moment that had passed since. "How did you know that phaser wasn't charged?"
His answer was nothing short of appalling. "Chakotay doubted my loyalty. He wouldn't have given me an active weapon."
"Not exactly iron-clad logic," she pointed out, not bothering to hide her disbelief.
The lights went out, throwing her old, steady companion into deep shadows.
"Call it 'a hunch'."
She called it terrorism, privately. Aloud, she joked, "Remind me to pay more attention to your hunches."
B'Elanna, already wearing the ridiculous white glasses, shushed them. Taking the cue and putting on her own pair, Janeway realized their conversation must've been carrying through more than she'd thought or she doubted B'Elanna would've had the nerve. Especially in light of earlier events.
But she had to admit the horror flic…and she and Tom would have words about that extremely discretionary selection…was more real with the glasses. The ugly, fictional monsters seemed to be projected closer to the audience, and it almost seemed as if she could reach out and touch the outstretched claws if she tried.
She resisted the fleeting impulse.
The violence of the feature, though way overboard for the nice little distraction she'd hoped for, didn't affect her. To her, the true horror had already been played out. In her ready room. Throughout the decks of Voyager.
What the hell are you doing?
I think it's obvious. I'm taking control of your ship.
Someone screamed, drawing her focus back to the screen. Ah. The incredibly stupid, beautiful blonde with the horribly unflattering undergarments. She'd just opened the door that had been thumping and vibrating madly from the other side. The blonde screamed again as the creature sprang forth to claim her, jaws and talons snapping. Janeway stared, eyes glassy behind the flimsy, protective glasses, as the monster all but ripped the woman apart. It was obviously fake, the blood. The blonde's gory demise inspired no actual sympathy on Janeway's part.
For Kathryn, the monsters had been her best friends, her two most reliable officers. Try that one out, sister, she thought caustically at the screen, watching the monster already stalking his next victim. Then you can scream to me.
She was being unkind. She didn't much care. The glasses kept her glazed eyes from being detected, and she was able to relax her guard a bit while wearing them.
They stayed through the entire feature. Gaily…in her case, anyway…eating artificially flavored, holographic popcorn to bloody images until the hero finally took out the last of the mutated monsters from outer space – for the second time. But he managed it only after being almost mortally wounded and half dead himself – for the second time. When it finally ended, she rose, stretching the kinks in over-exhausted, sore muscles. She'd been up for almost three days by now. Even before the events of this morning, all of her focus had been on the crew that had been attacked and had fallen into comas. Then to reaching Tuvok, helping drag him through the mental trauma he'd been enduring – and making her oblivious to the seizure of her vessel that had been happening around her. The end result was that she desperately needed rest and hoped to hell she'd be able to wake up to the alarm tomorrow. Because she couldn't retire just yet. The worst of the evening was still ahead of her.
It was time to implement the next phase of Operation Appearance Repair.
Tuvok promptly excused himself to resume his security rounds. She let him go with little remorse. The theater was packed with crewmembers. More and more had filed in as the feature continued and gamma shift came on duty, relieving beta. Surrounded by familiar faces, faces she loved and lived to safeguard, to bring home, she felt completely and utterly alone. But that was neither here nor there.
Her eyes finally rested on the person she'd been seeking. Chakotay was with Ensigns Baytart and Hudson, several rows back. He'd been that close to her, and she hadn't even felt his presence.
In truth, she felt nothing but cold.
She waved to him, catching his eye as he removed his flimsy prop, and only then realized she was still wearing the ridiculous glasses herself. She took them off, and everything came into clearer focus. The theater was a dingy mess. It hadn't been so untidy when they'd entered, but now the floors were littered with bits of popcorn and other, sweeter confections from the authentic "concession stand" at the entrance. She frowned at the notion that her crew was that generally untidy. It was rather unseemly…but then again, everyone realized how easy it was to clean a holographic mess.
Holographic ushers actually began to file in, sweeping the discarded bits of waste into primitive, portable bins, and she shook her head. The floors…the whole grid…would be squeaky clean the moment the program was ended. It was unnecessary.
Tom's attention to detail again. If the man put even half the effort wasted on the holodecks into something more worthwhile…she almost shuddered to think what kind of brilliance he'd be capable of. She was glad he'd been on her side during the mutiny.
Not that it had helped much. But that wasn't the point, was it?
Chakotay had nodded acknowledgement of her wave, had turned to bid his movie companions good night and was just parting company with them.
He would wait for her. This had already been discussed, hours earlier in sickbay. She'd taken a break from tirelessly helping set her ship back to rights and done a quick walkthrough specifically to check up on him and Tuvok, who were among the last to be thoroughly inspected by the doctor. Having received the EMH's assurances that the two men were rightfully themselves again, she'd nodded, steeled herself, and looked them both right in the eyes. Read the remorse there, remorse she'd needed to see if she was honest, and warmly promised them that she didn't hold them responsible for what Teero had done through them. Because she didn't. How could she? They'd been under mind control.
She'd hurriedly turned the brief, hushed conversation to crew morale. Outlined the need for the crew to be reassured as quickly as possible. They needed to be seen together, whole, and restored to their normal closeness. She'd already asked Lieutenant Paris to orchestrate a quiet social gathering. She would attend the upcoming gathering with Tuvok. B'Elanna and Tom would sit together. Chakotay would sit conspicuously with Starfleet crewmembers, and she with Tuvok. Then she would leave with Chakotay, making sure as many people as possible got a good view of them leaving together.
The first time in six years that that had been their main concern. Usually, it had been the other way around. She'd only known that she wasn't yet prepared to sit through an entire viewing with him beside her, trying to tell her all about how sorry he was for what he'd done. It would happen, yes, but she'd needed the brief respite before facing that conversation.
But now the God-awful feature had finally ended. It was Chakotay's turn to step up to the plate. And hers. This was crucial to repairing appearances, she had to remind herself.
"Captain." Someone tapped her shoulder unexpectedly. Smile in place, she whirled in surprise to face…Michael Ayala…and bit back on swearing as a portion of her blood supply drained from her face.
He was the last person she'd expected. And the look of sheer, pent-up remorse in his beseeching brown eyes was all she needed to see to know what this unexpected – entirely uncharacteristic – approach was about.
He'd been in the ready room during "the incident". And as she vividly recalled, he had looked at her just as coldly as Tuvok and Chakotay had the entire time he stood there, watching. Watching.
"Captain." He stepped in closer, angling his head down in an attempt to mask his words from others shuffling past them in the tight aisle. "I was hoping I could…talk to you for a minute."
She glanced at him and then automatically looked behind her without meaning to, but in the instant that she did, her eyes locked to Chakotay's. He stood waiting for her by the doors, and at the grim tint in his obsidian orbs, she knew he knew exactly what was happening down here. He started towards them, but she shook her head, stopping him. This would be better over sooner than later, and with the least amount of attention called to it.
"Captain." She turned back to Ayala, easy smile in place in spite of the angry butterflies in her stomach and caught the tail end of him exchanging just as brief and as pointed a look with Chakotay over her shoulder.
Exactly as he had in the ready room earlier, in fact, and suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to get the hell away from him as fast as she could – from both of them.
But that would pass, she reminded herself furiously, gritting her teeth behind the closed-lipped smile. It had been a shock to her system, nothing more. It would pass…
"I just wanted you to know how sorry I am about…" he swallowed distastefully, rallied his courage to continue, "about this morning. You know…" He glanced around again to make sure no one was within ear shot. "I mean…in the ready room."
She'd known what he'd meant, yes. Of course she'd known what he meant. She curled her hand solicitously on his upper arm, ostensibly maneuvering him towards the exit, every ounce of good will that was normally on her face lighting in her eyes now. "Lieutenant. You have absolutely nothing to apologize for," she dismissed his deep concern. Absolving him of all guilt he carried. "You didn't do anything."
No, he hadn't. He'd only watched.
"Exactly." He broke almost violently back and out of her grasp, showing far more vehemence than he'd ever expressed before to her way of thinking, and she could only stare at him in surprise. And a little wariness, truth be told. "That's just it, Captain. That's what I mean," he urged. "I didn't do anything. They…" he paused as B'Elanna conspicuously passed by them, a look of warning on her face at the intensity she could clearly see between the two of them, but Janeway merely nodded her onward, indicating that she was to keep out of this, as well.
As soon as B'Elanna…grudgingly…passed by them, Ayala continued, his voice a more aware hush, "They brought you into that room and pointed a phaser at you. One you at least thought was set to kill, even if I knew better." She fought the "aha" that wanted to form on her lips. She had wondered whether or not he'd known. "And I let him do it, without a concern in the galaxy about what that had to be like for you."
Yes. He had. He, like her two most trusted companions in this galaxy had been entirely, utterly unreachable to her in that moment. She'd done her damnedest to get through to all of them, especially Chakotay – and had barely managed to even remotely reach Tuvok, apparently.
Nonetheless this was pointless. Her response would only, could only be of one kind. She squared her shoulders, looked him directly in the eye and repeated, firmly, "Mike, I hold you responsible for none of your actions today, and neither should you. You were brainwashed by a very talented, unbalanced man, and then further tampered with by a Vulcan mind-meld. No human being alive could have withstood that."
"You would've," he countered quietly. Surprising her.
"Maybe not," she argued. Whether because she believed it to be true or because it was what needed to be said was anyone's guess.
"There's absolutely no excuse for what the three of us did today," was his tight-lipped response to that.
No. There wasn't.
But of course there was.
Once again, she put a soothing hand on his arm. "You said yourself you knew the phaser was uncharged – and so I was never in any danger."
"That's not the point, Captain."
No. It certainly wasn't. He looked at her dubiously, and she laughed lightly, for his benefit. "Isn't it? As far as I'm concerned, even though you were under intensive mind control, you didn't irreparably harm me or anyone else. Nor did you attempt to do so. All things considered, that speaks to your true character more than anything else – don't you think?"
He shrugged. Unconvinced. If anything, looking more tormented. He shifted his feet, his gaze rooted firmly downward as he mumbled, "Honestly, Captain. I think that I…" she had to crane her neck in to hear his last words, "I might have. If I'd felt it was necessary."
Her gut clenched. "I don't believe that for a second," she declared. And damn it, but she was far too exhausted for this. Taking him by both upper arms, she forced him to meet her gaze. Hardened her voice further, making herself perfectly clear. "You are not to blame yourself for any of it. Put it out of your mind – because I already have. Is that understood?"
If nothing else, that tone had reached him. He did take a deep breath, and she softened her affect immediately. Nice and light. That's the theme for this evening. "Good." Her arm migrated to his elbow as she once more ushered him toward the exit. "Now that that's settled...what you can do for me is to go back to your quarters and get a good night's sleep. So that you can come to the bridge tomorrow well rested."
He smiled wanly but gamely. A little more of the spark back in his eyes already. At the very least, there was relief that she genuinely wasn't holding a grudge over his despicable actions. He nodded. "Aye, Captain. And…thank you."
He hurried away before she could reply. She didn't miss the fleeting, almost guilty glance he exchanged with Chakotay on his way out, however.
That would have to stop immediately.
And now it was really time. A lot of people were already gone, but they only needed a few good witnesses to have this spread throughout the ship by morning.
"Commander." She brightened her eyes even more. Nearly killing herself with the effort but damned well managing perfectly light normalcy. "Shall we?"
If his eyes didn't quite meet hers, focusing more on some other point of her face than making direct eye contact, he smiled back at her just as warmly. Indicated the door, allowing her to move past him. "After you."
Step back in the brig, Kathryn.
She almost missed the first step before regaining control. Keep walking, she furiously ordered her suddenly leaden feet. Just concentrate on moving forward. Yet all the while, she could feel his presence behind her. Could sense his gaze. He'd just better be tempering it better than the piercing feeling of his eyes drilling into her back was telling her he was.
They reached the corridor outside. Several crewmembers engaged them in conversation, which they politely hung around to indulge for upwards of twenty minutes until, finally, the crowd cleared and they could move along.
Conversation was light and easy...for the benefit of ever-present prying ears and eyes. Still, she couldn't seem to help noting that the last time they'd walked side by side like this through the corridor, they'd been headed to let her take back her bridge. But the time before that…
They stepped into the lift when it arrived.
Consider this a test of your loyalty. It's set to kill.
You said you wouldn't hurt anyone.
His only reply had been to glance in her direction, almost as an afterthought. He'd looked at her like she was nothing, had stared through her, as if she wasn't even there.
Still, the pretense of normalcy wasn't dropped. Side by side, neither of them really looking at each other, neither of them quite ready to handle that just yet if they didn't have to, they groaned about Tom's taste in entertainment. They amused themselves by coming up with all sorts of devious ways to "repay" him for the three and a half hours of their lives that had just been wasted and that they wouldn't ever get back.
Joking aside, it went unsaid that they were both grateful he'd stepped up and come up with this diversion. It was exactly what the ship had needed to take everyone's mind off of recent events, and they would more likely find a way to commend him than they would torture him for his horrible selection. But if they wanted to, Tom simply had no idea how easily the two of them brainstorming together could bring about truly inventive, thoroughly entertaining ways of making his life a living hell, and that was where the attraction to the topic rested.
They spent a little too much time exhausting the topic, but it filled the turbolift ride.
Which was the real point.
Deck Three wasn't exactly deserted, which they'd more or less expected it to be. It wasn't packed with activity, but every so often, someone passed them in the corridor. They both smiled warmly and asked after everyone's well-being, working as a team to make each man or woman feel singularly appreciated. Individually, they were each good at that. Together, they were absurdly good at it.
To Janeway, it felt like Deck Three had lengthened exponentially since the last time she'd walked it. As they stopped running into people, they stopped bothering to come up with ways to fill the silence. The awful, heavy, filled-with-growing-expectation silence.
They came to his door first. And it was time to face this. Really face it.
Only she couldn't. Not now. Not tonight. She was too physically exhausted – too worked up. Her body was failing on her already. Hell. Her god-damn hands were shaking. Her legs, too. Her whole body was trembling with pent-up, ready to burst emotion. If they stepped through those doors together, alone…
She wouldn't be able to hold back. She knew it. Not now.
"Aren't you coming in?" he'd turned to look at her…but not at her, she noticed. Good.
"Not tonight," she replied. Trying to calm the storm that was ready to burst out of her. Having this conversation was going to be the equivalent of opening a Pandora's box of subjects. Taboo and otherwise. She wasn't ready. And despite what he thought, neither was he. He had no idea. And until she had time to collect herself, to act as if long enough to make it true, this was not an option.
She had to leave.
She did not just flinch, damn it. It had been a nervous twitch or something. Testament to her exhaustion and yet another reason she needed to defer this conversation for as long as possible.
"We have to talk about this."
"Not now," she replied tightly. With finality.
He was looking at her by this time – at her – but she was not returning the favor. Her gaze was locked on the keypad next to his hand as he argued, "Yes, now. Because if we don't talk now, you'll find a way to avoid it indefinitely. We have to address this."
"No, we don't, actually," she clipped flatly, taking a symbolic step back. "Get some rest, Chakotay. I'll see you in the–"
"Ensign." Chakotay's voice raised considerably, and as her eyes darted up to him in surprise, he nodded to someone well behind her down the corridor.
She assumed the person in question simply nodded back as there was no verbal response. She didn't trust herself enough to turn and acknowledge her unnamed crewman just yet. And then Chakotay fixed her with another one of those looks, which she fully intended to ignore without the slightest twinge of conscience, and it was just the push she needed. She wasn't coming in tonight, and there was nothing he could do about it. She starting spinning on her heel, ready to use her crewmember to ensure that she didn't have to give in when Chakotay again raised his voice noticeably, pulling her back to him.
"We should get working on those reports, Captain," he announced – much louder than he ever should have needed to for the distance between them. "It's late, but you did say you wanted to get as much done as possible. And I know you haven't eaten yet. Neither have I." He tilted his head inward, to the open expanse of his quarters. And smiled. "So you set the table, and I'll replicate dinner. We can work on it while we eat."
Her eyes flashed up at him then. She locked gazes with him furiously, actual sparks erupting as she felt the ensign beginning to near her position. As she felt the ensign's pace beginning to slow a bit as he or she approached, as if indeed hanging on her answer. It wasn't enough that he or she could be accused of eavesdropping, but it didn't matter. Either way, she had no choice now. Even hesitation would give the absolute wrong impression. If she refused him now, every bit of work they'd already done tonight would be for nothing.
Chakotay had just trapped her, as neatly as he had when he keyed that forcefield up after throwing her into the brig.
"Sounds like a plan," she grated out as cheerfully as she could.
But oh, was she meeting his eyes right now, yes. They were burning into him, almost through him, and he at least had to keep smiling until the doors shut or the ensign passed. She stepped inside, past the space he'd created for her to do so, pushing past him and deliberately knocking into his shoulder on her way inside.
Step back in the brig Kathryn.
He was a dead man. As she stepped well into his still-darkened quarters, she paused in the middle of his living room, waited with her back to him for the doors to close.
"Lights, one quarter," he called softly as they did.
She could see her surroundings now. But she didn't turn around. Everything on her was shaking, and this time, it was more with rage than anything else. "That was a dirty trick, Commander – and you know it," she hissed.
He didn't approach her; he had at least that much awareness of how precarious his continued existence was after what he'd just done. But he didn't apologize for it, either. His voice was quiet as he simply returned, "You didn't leave me any choice."
"I didn't leave you a choice? Did I hear that correctly?"
Damn him. Her palms already hurt from digging her nails into them as her fingers curled reflexively into tight fists meant to keep her stationary. To keep her from turning around and outright letting him have it – all of it.
"We have to talk about this," he repeated stubbornly.
Did they? She bristled at his gall. "There's nothing to talk about," she all but snapped. Holding herself as absolutely still as her trembling limbs would allow her to. "You were under mind control. It wasn't you."
"Then you don't blame me for taking your ship from you?" he asked – too calmly. Too damned calmly for where she was with this emotionally. "You don't blame me for what happened in the ready room this morning?"
Consider this a test of your loyalty. It's set to kill.
"Of course not," she hissed.
You said you wouldn't hurt anyone.
Chakotay was quiet enough, still for long enough that her nerves were about to snap on the constant replay of that moment before he finally ventured, "So you're not angry with me. Not even the slightest bit."
"No," she growled. "How could I be?"
"Then turn around and look at me, Kathryn," he challenged – again, too damned evenly to compete with what she was feeling right now.
She didn't move. She couldn't move. If she did…
"Do it, then," he called her on it. "Turn around. Look me in the eyes, and tell me you aren't angry at me."
She couldn't do it. He knew she couldn't. The words "go to hell" were on her tongue, but she physically bit them back. Taking a deep, shaking-with-rage breath and then trying to exhale without choking on it.
"Kathryn?" he pressed, stepping firmly on that last thread of her single remaining nerve. She could hear him taking a few steps closer, could feel him daring to approach now on the movement of air his steady motion created. He paused after bringing himself to within less than two meters of her. "Turn around," he repeated staunchly. "Prove that you're not angry with me.
What the hell are you doing?
It's set to kill.
And damn him, he still kept pushing her!
"Why won't you turn around?" he demanded.
"You know why I won't!" she snarled the admission, snapping and whirling on him in an instant. "This was as devastating to you as it was to me!" she forced herself to remember even as she said it. Her hand came up to the bridge of her nose, pinching at the screaming headache she felt forming around her. She prayed he didn't notice the way it shook. "Chakotay, I'm too damned tired to get into it right now. If you keep pushing this, I'm only going to make it worse for you."
"Worse for me?" He sounded incredulous.
She dropped her hand. Furious with his persistence. Furious with his existence, right now. "This isn't the right way to do this," she clipped out bitingly. "I know you're angrier with yourself than I could ever be with you."
He scoffed at that. "Well that's where you're wrong."
Coming from him, it was such a non sequitor of a statement, of a reaction, that it jolted her out of her abhorrence for this conversation, if just for an instant. She stared at him, and he shook his head curtly. "Anger doesn't even begin to touch it," he explained dourly. "More like self-loathing. Contempt." It was evident in his dark eyes as she looked into them, really looked, and it was exactly why they couldn't do this right now.
But he wasn't finished. "Rage is probably closer. And if I didn't have a duty to this ship and crew – to you – I'd probably have spaced myself this morning. But this isn't about me right now. It was about me, and Tuvok, and the rest of the crew all day."
"I'm not the one who had my ship taken from me by my best friend today," he insisted, taking another step. Refusing to let her shy away from this. "I'm not the one who was thrown into my own brig by a man I trusted with my life."
"Chakotay, stop it," she snapped. "I'm warning you–"
"And I'm ignoring you. Just like I did in the ready room, when you asked me not to do what I let you think I was doing," he declared grimly. Pressing onward. Stirring it all up again and throwing it back into her face without hesitation even as he came closer to invading her personal space on top of it all.
It's set to kill.
"I'm not the one who was pulled into his own office this morning and used in the cruelest, most callous display of disregard by that friend. I'm not the one whose so-called best friend ordered my oldest friend to put a phaser to my head and kill me just to prove that he was loyal to some long-dead cause."
Consider this a test of your loyalty.
Take her back to the brig.
"And I lived through it all!" she all but shouted back at him over the din of her own clamoring memories. "I'm alive, Chakotay. I'll get over it. But we won't if you keep pushing this right now!"
"I have to push, Kathryn!" he insisted, raising his voice for the first time to her. "Try to understand that I'm doing this for you. You can't walk away from this right now!"
"Why not? Why do you have to do this right now, Chakotay?" she demanded scathingly. "If you're so concerned about me all of the sudden, why are you pushing this on me after I've repeatedly told you I'm not ready for it?"
He took her anger as his due, pressing through it, "Because whether or not you want to admit or face it, I scared the hell out of you today!"
"Don't flatter yourself!" she snarled, tilting her head up to glare daggers at him as he continued to advance on her. And how the hell he still dared to approach her was beyond her now, but he took another step even as she spoke so harshly to him, every bit as worked up as she.
"It's nothing to do with flattery, Kathryn, it's the truth," he argued vehemently. His face was twisted in desperation. In horrified self-loathing, but in determination as well as he took the step that brought him right up against her. So that they were standing nearly toe to toe. "You looked at me like you were afraid of me this morning–"
"I most certainly did not," she bristled up at him, resenting the accusation.
"And if you looked afraid," he continued forcefully, cutting over her and standing his ground so that there was no way out, no way to hide from this unless she retreated, "that means you were really terrified."
The cracking of her hand exploding across his cheek startled, stilled, both of them.