Author's Notes: For Gates Hepburn, for her birthday. Happy Belated, dearest! Thanks to Cheshire for the beta of most scenes (remaining mistakes are sooo very mine), to Froot for the read through and opinions, and again to Chesh for the insert I'll note later. Be warned, usual readers...this won't be the dark rough and tumble stuff I typically like. There is fluff...oh God is there fluff. Lastly, I suggest intimate familiarity with Voyager and the episodes before attempting this...otherwise, you'll probably be lost.

Easy


~~C~~


I go for the backstabbing, son of a Cardassian whore, Paris, ready to tear him apart until she steps into me, pushing against my chest. Blocking access to my prey.

If she were a man my size, I'd hit her. It's possible that I still might if she doesn't watch herself. Who the hell she thinks she is remains beyond me as she doesn't retreat, dresses me down like I'm one of her misbehaving ensigns while I tower over her. Like I can't take her down with one solid swing, but then…that's Starfleet arrogance for you, and I'd forgotten that over the past few years of not dealing with them.

Still, it's her ship, and starting shit on her bridge, surrounded by her people, isn't the best idea. Yet.

Her eyes are something when they flash at you like that. And spirits of my ancestors, her voice is the most awful, grating sound I think I've ever heard. I just want her to shut up and stop talking.

It would be so easy to knock her out of my way. Better yet, to lean down and close those prim, red lips with mine, which would have the added benefit of shutting her up, too – as well as pissing her off. It's a fleeting impulse I'd never act on. But it does amuse me to picture her reaction if I did. In a dark, twisted kind of way.

It would be so easy.

"…and I suggest we all concentrate on finding our people and getting ourselves back home."

She's pretty damned sure of herself; that's one thing I'll give her.

If move against her now, her 'fleet security dogs will pounce. And she's right. Paris can wait; B'Elanna's in trouble, we're spirits know where, and I don't know if we're ever going to see home again. I might need her.

At least she's stopped talking long enough to wait for my reply. My ears are thankful.

The heat of her body seeps into me, slight curvature pushing against me probably the last thing she wants me to focus on, but it does tell me she's harder than she looks. Less self-indulgent than I remember 'fleet officers being.

She still has yet to back down from a stare that's quelled many a full-grown man. It's something. Maybe she isn't a complete waste of time. Maybe.

We'll see.

I nod curtly, agree to restrain myself, to follow her lead – for now. And my life is never the same.


~~J~~


"This isn't a democracy, Chakotay. I can't run this ship by consensus."

He's lost his mind if he thinks Hogan's suggestion is on the table, no matter how upset the Maquis are over losing Bendera. If they think I'm unaffected, they're dead wrong, but my own grief, my sense of failure, have no place in any conversation on this ship. Not now, they don't.

"A lot of the Maquis feel the Federation abandoned them years ago," he hammers. "You may be willing to die for Federation principles, but they're not."

That is not something I want to hear.

I glare at him, absolutely incredulous. "I can't believe you'd support that man's position." I can't believe I'm hearing this, but he'd better watch himself. I don't need this – not from him, and especially not today.

"I don't."

Well that's a relief, I almost spit out. But he's not done, apparently.

"But isn't there something in between your position and his?"

No, damn it. There isn't.

We enter the turbolift, and I snap out, "Deck three." If he has any sense of self-preservation, he'll let it go at that.

Apparently, he possesses none. He doesn't back down, despite my frosty demeanor warning him to the express contrary. If anything, he grows bolder in the relative privacy of the turbolift – and it incenses me.

It would be so easy to shut him up, to let my anger get the better of me in the heat of the moment. I could strike at his jugular, sink my teeth in where I know it'll hurt, just as he's doing right now with his relentless persistence. Trying to work side by side for the last year and a half, we've learned enough about each other that I know how to do it. I could use a few choice words to cut into him as adeptly as he's cutting into me.

Better yet, it'd be even easier to simply shove him back against that bulkhead and give those full lips of his something else to focus on. There've been a few unguarded moments when he thinks I wasn't looking indicating he might not even push me away if I tried.

He's lucky a lapdog isn't always what I need in a first officer, that I've got too many of those principles he's so scathingly redressing now, and that I love Mark too much to seriously consider it in the first place.

Still. Right at this moment, it almost amuses me to picture what his reaction would be if I did do it – any of it.

"…you're responsible for making the best decisions for your crew, and I think you have to ask yourself if you're doing that."

Right for the throat. He wastes no words, makes no bones about it.

I glare at him. As raw as I still am over losing another one of those crewmembers he's throwing up in my face. As pissed off as I am at his message, his lack of unwavering support of my decisions, it would be so easy to hit him right this second. To use other, less clean means of breaking him. I could do it. So easily. He has no real idea what I'm capable of if I let my principles take a backseat to my ego.

Fortunately for him, I'm not that woman. Not yet, I'm not. And I have to admit that he's been right to push me before. There's the chance that he's right this time, too. A good chance, damn him. And damn me too.

My chin comes up in defiant silence. I'm not ready to give in that easily. I'll ask Tuvok. No way I do something like this – just abandon everything I've been taught to believe about dealing with scum like Cullah – without getting his perspective first.

He's the most steady, level-headed among us all. Including me. There's no one on this ship whose opinion matters more to me.

I'll deal with Chakotay later.


~~JC~~