"Commander."

"Captain."

Kathryn Janeway coolly appraised the tall dark man standing before her in her ready room.

Chakotay did the same as his eyes drifted over the tiny woman who had just sentenced them to a life 75 years away from home. He watched her challenge his hard stare as she placed her hands firmly on her hips and lifted her strong chin towards him as if daring him to speak or move on her in any threatening way. There was no security team. Just the two of them. Alone. Voyager hung silently in space as remnants of the destroyed array drifted past.

Janeway broke the silent stalemate first. "You and your crew are welcome to remain here on Voyager, of course. We have a long journey home."

"That we do." Chakotay held her dark blue eyes with his black ones. "Thanks to you."

She nodded and relaxed her posture. Stepping back, she walked to her chair and ran her hand along the back of it. "You supported my decision out there when I made it, Commander. Having second thoughts?"

"Are you?"

Janeway sat down. She looked up and said, "Should I? I can't change the decision I made. And I'm not sorry I made it."

Chakotay bristled at her display of authority. He hadn't spent the past few years as a Maquis rebel without learning how to subvert that. If he stayed, he was going to enjoy teaching her that lesson. "What exactly do you plan to do with me and my crew?"

"I just invited you to remain with us. Do you really think I'd put you out?"

He walked to her desk and put his hands down. "No thanks, Captain. 75 years in the brig doesn't appeal to any of us."

Her smile faded as she rose to place her face in his. "Nor does it appeal to me to put you there. Now sit down, Commander, and let's calmly discuss what we can accomplish together or I will provide you and anyone who's foolish enough to join you with a shuttle craft that you can take off my ship. Now!"

A large smile spread across his tan face and he chuckled softly. He sank back into a chair as she did the same. Folding his arms across his chest, he said, "What makes you think you and anyone who is foolish enough to follow you won't be leaving this ship in a shuttle craft shortly under my orders?"

Janeway leaned over her desk at him. "Is that a threat, Commander?"

"Yes."

She straightened and said, "I don't take kindly to threats so let me enlighten you. My crew follows me not because they are fools but because they are loyal to the oath they took. An oath to uphold Starfleet rules and regulations that we all, including you, took and chose to live by. At least at one time, Commander."

Chakotay jerked back to the desk. "Well, when Starfleet's regulations are changed to cede Earth to the Cardassians, then you can speak to me about your loyalty to that oath. Until you hold your dying family members in your arms, then you can speak to me about that oath. Until you have personal experience with the Cardassians…"

Janeway slapped her desk hard. "I have personal experience with the Cardassians, Commander! A lot more of it than you will ever know! Now get out of my face and off my ship if you have no intention of speaking rationally with me!"

They stared each other down until Chakotay settled back into his chair. "Okay. Tell me exactly what you want from us."

Janeway took a deep breath. "Personally, I think you would be fools to take off alone in an uncharted quadrant in a shuttle craft. The Kazon would be on you and your crew in minutes. You would hand over Starfleet technology and knowledge of ideas, concepts, and training that they probably haven't even conceived of yet."

Chakotay smirked. "You think my people would break under Kazon interrogation techniques? You think we are so out of practice because we've been out of the Alpha Quadrant for a few days? We're used to the Cardassians of which you apparently have personal experience with…" He stopped as she glared at him.

"Well, Commander, I'm willing to bet there aren't many cadets among your crew. There are no Maquis replacements here either. How long do you think you'll hold out on your own without a real mission or purpose to sustain you?"

Chakotay shrugged. "I don't know. How long are you going to give Voyager?"

Janeway remained silent.

"Having Starfleet training doesn't make an exemplary crew, Captain. Be careful about your assumptions. They are your biggest weakness and, if I don't exploit them, someone else out here will."

"Maybe, but you have more of them, Commander." Janeway shook her head. "Please don't underestimate me. You don't have me figured out yet. In fact, you're not even close."

Chakotay studied her again. Despite her petite size, she more than made up for it with her brash personality, tough talk, and undiplomatic charm. He decided she was pretty even dressed in her official uniform and severe hairstyle. He knew there probably was a lot more to this diminutive spitfire than he was giving her credit for. It might just be worth sticking around just to find out how much more. Maybe enough, at least, to know exactly how to get rid of her so he could get himself and his crew home with a proper ship. He had a fight to get back to. A fight his family and his planet depended on him to be there and win.

"What are you offering?"

"I would like you and your crew to stay on board Voyager as members of this crew."

"Why? So we can watch you blow up more expedient ways home?"

Her eyes flashed but she ignored his comment. "Commander, you won't survive out here alone. You know that. And I know that. It also does not escape me that Voyager needs all the help she can get. Frankly, we need each other."

"I'm glad you realize that, Captain. But there's no Starfleet out here. No updates to those regulations that come through from time to time. What will you do?"

"You can sit there and make your wisecracks, Commander. Enjoy it, now. Because once you accept the position of First Officer on board this ship, I can assure you I will not tolerate disrespect towards me or any other member of my crew and that includes yours." Her voice deepened. "Or you will become very acquainted with Voyager's brig. Do I make myself clear?"

Chakotay smiled. "First Officer, huh? I accept. All I have to do now is wait which shouldn't take long out here. I'll ascend to the Captain's chair and this ship will become mine. You have a deal, Captain."

"I would hold your cheer, Commander. As Captain, I choose your assignments and your responsibilities. Are you sure you want to test me on what your first one might be?"

Chakotay placed his elbows on the desk. "Let's cut the diplomatic games. I don't like you very much."

Janeway nodded. "Noted. I don't know you well enough yet to like you or not. But I can tell you that I respect you. If I didn't, I wouldn't trust you to take on the second in command around here. Based on what you did these past few days, sacrificing your ship to protect Voyager from the Kazon attack, I need that. We all do. My crew and your crew, our crew, is undoubtedly shaken from what just happened….from the situation I just put us in. I'm well aware of my role in that and that's for me to take on and reconcile. As for your past, whatever you did in the Alpha Quadrant doesn't matter very much right now, does it? I am proposing a clean slate with one stipulation. The Starfleet rules and regs that you have so casually thrown aside… well now, your reason for doing that doesn't exist here, does it? You are a Starfleet graduate, a former instructor, and I believe those ideals do matter to you on a very basic level even if you won't admit that to me right now. This ship and our crew are going to need you. They are also going to need consistency and a strong command structure to get us through the journey home. And we will get there. A Starfleet ship can accomplish that. I can accomplish that. If you think you and your crew can adapt here, I would welcome your help. Wouldn't you?"

Chakotay saw the raw courage, determination and slight hint of fear (or was it uncertainty) displayed in her eyes. She hid it very well under her icy composure. Licking his lips, he said, "Let's talk about my crew. You'll need to give them power positions if you want their loyalty."

"If they're capable of those positions, let's talk about who can be useful where. Of course, for security reasons, their access to certain areas of this ship will have to initially be restricted. That's necessary especially after some of the statements their former Captain has just made to me."

Chakotay winced at her reference to his past title but held his tongue. "Understood. But I don't want my men and women pegged as second class around here. You really wouldn't like the consequences of that, Captain."

"Well, you're making a fine first officer already, Commander. I'll give them as much access as I can without breaching Tuvok's security protocols."

"As First Officer, I can override Tuvok's security protocols."

"Yes, you can. Which is why you won't be given all of the command codes and access as you would in a normal posting."

"You're restricting me too?"

"Your restrictions will be on a need to know basis. I won't embarrass you in front of the crew. Do we have an agreement, Commander?"

Chakotay looked up. "No. I need all of the command codes. If Voyager is attacked and you are incapacitated, I need to be able to do my job."

Janeway was silent for a moment. Finally, she nodded and said, "Agreed."

"Agreed?"

Janeway offered her hand. "Our crews can't start to become one without trust. That starts with us as their example. Welcome aboard, Commander."

Chakotay hesitated before taking her small hand in his. He covered it with his other palm and held it tight. "Tuvok will have orders to shoot me on sight if he believes I'm stepping across the line, won't he?"

Janeway grinned and took back her hand. "Commander, you may become the best First Officer I've ever had."