"B'Elanna! B'Elanna – wait!" Tom called. Ahead of him, B'Elanna slammed out of the shuttebay and into the corridor, toolkit swinging and hair flying.
"I can't believe you did that!" She yelled over her shoulder, and stormed on. Tom sighed and started after her.
"Look, I understand why you're mad at me – " B'Elanna interrupted him with a string of Klingon expletives, each nastier than the last. Tom stopped, eyebrows pushing into his hairline, then shook his head and resumed his pursuit. "Look, B'Elanna, it had to be done. You weren't going to talk to her unless you were forced to, so we decided to – hey! B'Elanna!"
He followed her to her quarters, offering apologies to crewmen, colliding with corners, and generally discovering that he really didn't like chasing a half-Klingon through the bowels of a ship she knew better than he did. It just wasn't fair.
Just ahead of him, B'Elanna slapped out the code to her doorkey, shouldering her way through the crack when it didn't open fast enough.
"B'Elanna – B'Elanna!" he fought the closing door and won. She slung her toolkit onto the couch and stood facing away from him, shoulders tensed and fists at her sides. "Bee – "
"Don't, Tom! I don't want to hear it."
"But B'Ela – "
"I said don't!" She swung around.
"Okay. I won't." He stood watching her. After a moment, she turned back to the couch and slumped, as if spent of everything, even anger.
"I'm sick of everyone trying to run my life, Tom," she said finally. "I just want to be good enough the way I am. The way I want to be." A pause. "The way I have to be."
He took a step toward her. "I'm sorry if we forced her on you, Bee. Sometimes guys don't have the best of ideas." He half-smiled, then sobered. "But we saved your life because we love you. I love you. And I'm not willing to let you die just because the guy who operated on you deserves to die for what he's done."
She turned glittering eyes on him. "I wanted to die, Tom. I did."
His mouth dropped, brow furrowing as he stared at her. "What?"
"I wanted to die. I couldn't… couldn't keep on living. Not after the Maquis, not after you found out, not after Moset and that stupid alien bug thing." She paused and looked at him, tears tracking her skin. "Do you understand, Tom? I wanted to die. Everyone else died. So why not me?"
"Because I need you," he answered, cupping her cheek. She dropped her eyes and swallowed.
"What if I… what if I can't stop?"
He smiled faintly, wiping the tears from her cheeks and pulling her into him. She rested her head on his shoulder, arms twined around his waist. "That's where we come in," he whispered into her hair.
And sometimes, that's all it took.
. . .
"So how'd it go?" Chakotay asked upon entering her ready room three hours later. The smirk on his lips made her want to smack him, but that was hardly befitting of a captain. Even if she was chafing beneath those twinkling eyes.
She looked up calmly. "Fine, thank you. The anomaly was fascinating."
"Fascinating, huh? Was that before or after you realized it was a ruse?"
"Oh, I think you know." Janeway busied herself with Harry's operations report.
"Care for a cup of coffee?" he asked.
"I didn't invite you in here for a little chat, Commander," she said, standing. "I want to know why you went behind my back like that. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't throw you in the brig for undermining my authority."
He glanced down with a smile. "On the contrary, Captain. I don't think I undermined you at all."
She lifted her chin. "Oh?"
"A very wise man once told me that one whose authority is never questioned is in danger of two things: tyranny, and mutiny."
Janeway folded her arms. "And just who is this very wise man?"
"My grandfather." A pause. "He also told me that the only way to strengthen your guard against these things is to submit yourself to a questioning of your peers. Since there aren't exactly any other Starfleet captains around here, I thought B'Elanna would do just as well."
"And Tom?" She clasped her hands.
Chakotay grinned. "The one who hatched the anomalous asteroid plan. I was going to be much less subtle."
She raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"I don't know how, but he got wind of it and found me tinkering around with the Flyer's controls. He nearly exploded when he realized what I was doing, then calmed down long enough to tell me about the codes."
"The codes which I've now ordered him to revoke."
He shook his head. "I take it you're on speaking terms with our chief engineer again?"
"You could say that."
He watched her a moment. "She asked you those hard questions."
"And you didn't like it."
She remained silent.
"Kathryn, I'm not going to pretend that life is easy, because it's not. And sometimes I think the pressure of being the captain can become a crutch for us – something we use to remind those beneath us that we have it harder than they do. After all, they just follow orders. We have to invent them."
"Yes. In this case, we. I've been a captain before; I've stood in your shoes; I've liked it a little too much. After a while, it gets easy to skirt around the real issues of life. To treat others as if they're nothing more than a rank, as if they don't have feelings and conflicts and convictions just like we do. And that's dangerous."
She held silent for a long moment, just staring at him, and he met it unflinchingly.
"I'm still the Captain," she said at last.
And she would be.
Farewell, my friends: I do believe that this will be my final Voyager story for quite some time, if not forever. Thank you ALL for the reads, the reviews, the favorites, the messages, and, most of all, for the journey. Just because my stories have quieted doesn't mean my enthusiasm for talking Trek has - I hope you'll continue to read, review, and message just like old times. And someday I hope you'll consider picking up my newest favorite, JJ Abrams' heart-stopping Alias. It's truly worth the ride, every second of it.