Author's Notes: Liz, for the beta - my eternal gratitude. Thank you to Rocky for the story idea, beta, and the much needed pep talk.
Disclaimer: Characters & places belong to Paramount.
It started with an averted gaze. Elegant, smooth and subtle. Most of all, quiet - an intense quiet. And I started to take his silence personally.
Chakotay's silence that is.
At first, I thought his coolness resulted from his ordeal - an acceptable and understandable outcome of those long hours spent on the planet with only Seven for company. Turning inward, contemplating that time, reflecting on his rescue - that's what I wanted to believe.
But then he declined my invitation for dinner.
Three nights in a row, each time not meeting my gaze, and I began to wonder.
I noticed that while he was prompt to staff meetings, he did not linger afterward to talk to me. And I began to miss the feel of his fingers lightly brushing the top of my hand when he leaned in to talk to me.
On the Bridge, he stared straight ahead, his fingers rapping lightly on his armrest and even when I turned to look at him, hoping for that silent communion where for an instant only we two exist, he looked the other way.
His comments, perfunctory and distant, rarely gave any information about his state of mind; "Aye, Captain" was the best I could get out of him and even those words dripped blandly from his lips, almost as if mentally, he was simply going through the motions. And even when we were alone - and he made damn sure that we were rarely alone except for our private 0800 meetings - he kept strictly on business, not letting the slightest smile touch his lips.
For the first time in seven years, I desperately wanted Chakotay to argue with me. Wanted him to nail me to the wall with one of his arguments, and brow-beat me into yelling back at him. I wanted to hear that oh so carefully modulated voice raised in anger, his tone biting as he lashed out at me, again and again.
There have been times when we only communicated through shouting and then those long silences consisting tense, foot-shuffling, eye-avoiding moments would follow. But I never regretted a single one of those bitter words. Because, when all was truly said and done, we always came back to that same comfortable place, neither of us able to move where the other was concerned.
So this morning, I tried again and asked about dinner. We were in the turbolift and Chakotay stood so that his shoulder was against the far wall.
"I found a delicious lasagna recipe we haven't tried before," I said. "Plus, I can replicate a Merlot-"
"Not tonight," he cut me off. "Captain."
I put my hand on his forearm as the turbolift doors opened onto the Bridge.
"Chakotay," I said. "Is there a problem?"
He shook his head. "No problem."
That was this morning. Tonight, I'm taking a walkabout. Owen Paris once told me that a captain should take the time to wander her ship; it allows the crew to see her, allows her to see the crew. A good principle of leadership, he taught me. You should always be visible to your crew.
I chose tonight to make my rounds because I have no desire to sit alone in my quarters brooding over lasagna. I also know that Merlot, no matter the year or vintage, does not taste the same when consumed in solitude.
The mess hall is empty, surprisingly, maybe one of the three minutes of the day when no one comes in here. The holodecks are fully occupied and I make no attempt to find out programs my crew chooses to run; I have heard that the Orion slave girl program is very popular.
Slow rounds, a few brief conversations, and then I'm near Chakotay's quarters. And I'm not the only one. Tom stands to the right of Chakotay's door and he's visibly startled when he sees me.
"Captain," he says nervously. "I wasn't expecting to see you tonight."
An odd comment from my helmsman; after all, Voyager is my ship.
"Just taking a walk. What's that?" I nod at the PADD he holds. He laughs uneasily and holds it out for my inspection.
"B'Elanna's not feeling well," he says in a low voice. I understand; I'm sure B'Elanna would have no problems flaying Tom alive if there was any hint of her being indisposed. "So she asked Carey to work a double shift so she could rest. I thought I'd bring the roster change for Chakotay's approval so she wouldn't have to worry about it."
"I'm sure there won't be a problem," I answer. I take the PADD from Tom; everything looks in order.
"I know," Tom says. He's still staring at Chakotay's door.
"Are you going to give that to him?" I ask.
"Um, no, um, not a good time. B'Elanna needs me," Tom says. "Tomorrow. I'll take care of it tomorrow."
He backs away quickly, nearly stumbles over his feet, and then turns around. I think about calling after him and asking if he wants the PADD back, but Tom is long gone. I stare at Chakotay's door.
Several crewmen pass me and I feel curiously self-conscious, though they offer nothing but pleasant smiles and quiet greetings.
So I take the chance, because I'm there, and the PADD provides the excuse I never needed before. And it takes a while - too long, my opinion - for Chakotay to come to the door. When he does, he blocks the entrance almost completely, so I can't see much beyond him. He's wearing his gray T-shirt and black pants, his hair standing rakishly on end.
"Captain," he says, obviously surprised.
"Did I wake you?"
"Um...," he looks over his shoulder and I think I see a glimpse of red lying at the foot of his couch. "Is there something you need?"
"No, I-" I pause. "B'Elanna had a roster change she wanted to run by you. Tom brought it but he left without showing it to you, so I thought I would."
Chakotay takes the PADD from me, still not looking at me. He nods.
"I'll let B'Elanna know later that her request is granted," he says
"She'll appreciate that," I say. "Do you have a minute?"
Chakotay shifts his position in the door slightly, enough so that I can now see one high heel, also red, kicked off near the couch. I swallow hard.
"I'm sorry. Didn't mean to bother you. I didn't-"
"See you tomorrow."
I walk away quickly, trying to digest what I've seen. The only interpretation I come up with makes my stomach turn. And I don't suppose I have any right to feel the way I do, since Chakotay is my first officer and nothing more.
First officer and nothing more. Defined so clearly, so cleanly.
My quarters are dark when I return and I ask for minimum illumination. I sit on the sofa, curling up so that I can see the stars. But after several minutes, inactivity frustrates me and I head to my closet. There's a box in the back corner, hidden so I don't have to see it. I pull it out and sit beside it, running my fingers over the smooth, metallic cover.
My history with Mark, the sum of those memories, all tucked neatly into this box. Packed away when I got the letter, the one that began "Dear Kath..."
That letter I kept, maybe out of self-pity since I reread it on occasion to prove to myself that I'm truly alone out here. Sometimes I read it because I was thinking of Chakotay and I was tired of being faithful to a memory of what had been. After all, if Mark could move on, why couldn't I?
I always thought the reason was so simple: I was the captain and could not allow the boundaries between my crew and myself to blur in any way. Mark provided a good excuse.
I open the box and pull out a photo album, the only one I had brought along. Mark and I at Stinson Beach with my dog, Mark in the water smiling back at me, Mark and I at Telegraph Hill, Mark and I at the Academy... the pictures go on, a parade of smiles mocking me with each image.
Photography was - is - Mark's hobby. He loved taking pictures because it captured a moment, he said. A moment you could not duplicate, no matter how hard you tried. He would tell me that when we had been married sixty years, we could look back at these pictures, remember where we had been and how we'd felt at that point in time. Mark was always the more romantic of the two of us, and I have to give him credit: sometimes, he was the only one holding us together.
So here I am, sitting in dimly lit quarters with an album of moments strung together to form a picture of what was. Given the strains of my career on my relationship with Mark, it's amazing he hadn't given up on me long before I disappeared into the Delta Quadrant.
The door chimes and I hurriedly shove the album into the box.
The doors reveal Chakotay, who has pulled himself together nicely. Back in uniform, hair neatly combed, and I know if I stand very close to him, I'll smell the earthy scent of his skin mixed in with soap. At least he had the courtesy not to visit me with the scent of a woman on him.
"Didn't expect you," I tell him.
"Thought I'd take you up on that dinner invitation after all," he answers.
I indicate the table.
"Have a seat."
"I'm not too late?"
I shake my head. "No. I haven't eaten."
I set the table while Chakotay watches me. As I put down the pitcher of water, he grabs my wrist. I look down at him.
"When did all of the maybes turn into nevers?" he whispers.
I shrug off his grip and turn to the replicator.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I say evenly. I punch in the appropriate codes and a few seconds later, I get a perfectly cooked lasagna and bruschetta. The Merlot, I replicate afterwards.
"I'm sorry," Chakotay says.
"Do you love her?" I ask and am startled by my own directness. Chakotay shakes his head.
"I don't know. Solitude - it does strange things to your mind. You consider possibilities you never thought of before."
"I know." A bitter laugh escapes me.
"I didn't want you to find out this way."
"I don't know if I wanted to find out," I answer. I put a piece of bruschetta on Chakotay's plate. "I've never tried this recipe before. I found it the other day and wanted to try it out. Tell me what you think."
He takes a bite and closes his eyes.
"Wonderful," he says. "A recipe worth keeping and using again. An excellent dinner."
"You haven't had the lasagna yet. You may want to reserve judgement until you've tasted it."
"I don't think I'll have to."
I pour the Merlot and think about getting the candles, but then decide against it. I'm not sure that I have completely lost Chakotay, but I know I'm close. Know that he's on the edge and that he could go either way. I don't want to appear desperate or inappropriate; neither would help my cause at this point.
And candles can only salvage a relationship up to a certain point. And I'd hate to think that everything is riding on two white tapers. I have to give Chakotay - give us - more credit than that.
"We talked," Chakotay says quietly. "We were talking when you came."
I nod as a hard lump settles in my throat.
"You don't have to explain, Chakotay."
"I want to. I need-"
"I'd rather you didn't." I take a deep breath. "Look, dinner is getting cold. Are you ready for lasagna?"
"Yes, of course."
I cut into the lasagna and Chakotay inhales deeply.
"Smells wonderful," he says.
We eat without conversation; I feel the edge of silence keenly. It cuts into me more than any other hurt Chakotay's inflicted on me. I wonder if this thing of his - I refuse to call it a relationship - is for the long-term. Whether he sees a future with...
"Seven?" I ask abruptly.
Chakotay's fork clatters to his place and he looks up at me.
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
I never saw it coming. Never saw Chakotay and Seven together. Didn't even think they could carry on a conversation without getting on each other's nerves. Damn, I think. Damn, damn, damn. I resume eating. I take a sip of wine, run my tongue over my lips, and then drink the whole glass in one long gulp; not exactly proper manners, I know, but I need the warmth burning in my stomach.
"Don't hurt her," I tell him, trying to keep the crisp edge to my voice. For a single moment, I can be selfless. "I mean it."
"I said we talked," Chakotay responds. He wipes his lips with the napkin and pushes back his chair. "We're okay, Kathryn."
"Okay? Okay in what way? What does that mean?"
"There- there's nothing there. Like I said before, solitude has a strange effect on individuals. It was... understandable. We were together, the only two people on a jungle planet for weeks. Inappropriate maybe, but not unusual."
"And now?" my voice shakes. I remain seated, unable to move. Chakotay takes a deep breath.
"I don't know."
"Do you love her?"
"That's an unfair question."
I suppose it is but then, I know Chakotay. Know Chakotay better than I ever knew Mark. I know that he wouldn't fall into Seven's arms without feeling something for the woman nor would he discard her casually. Chakotay isn't into the quick and easy. He looks for an emotional connection and friendship - all of that is just as important as the physical. Because of this, I'm truly surprised by his choice; he and Seven have a tenuous, at best, friendship.
"It's none of my business, you're right," I tell him. "I'm sorry."
Chakotay says, "I didn't mean-"
"Don't explain." I stand up and cover the distance between us in three short strides. "I don't want to know. It's between you and Seven. I'm just your captain."
He laughs then.
"That's the problem," he answers. He touches my cheek lightly. "Good night, Captain. Thank you for dinner."
I stand there, dinner napkin still in hand, and the remnants of our meal still on the table. I look over at the box of Mark memories. And I realize, for the first time in years, that I hate silence.
After a few minutes, I inhale deeply and clear away the dinner plates.
~ the end ~
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