She hadn’t meant to hurt him, but she had hurt him, deeply. She had been so caught up in finding and catching the traitor among their crew that she hadn't really considered Chakotay's feelings or his reputation. She had used him, pure and simple, and he had every right to be angry with her.
Kathryn checked his whereabouts before walking down the corridor, although she wished he were out so she could delay the conversation. But, it was time to face the music, so she rang his chime.
“Come,” his voice rang out.
She snagged her bottom lip between her teeth as she stepped into his quarters.
“Captain, to what do I owe the pleasure?” He was sitting in one of his chairs, a PADD and a cup of tea in his hands.
“Pleasure?” she mused. “I…” She stepped forward and let the door close behind her. “I thought we should talk. Is this a good time?”
“My door is always open to you, Captain.” He set his cup and PADD down and went to the replicator. “Coffee?”
She nodded. “That would be nice.”
He ordered the drink and brought it to her, motioning for her to sit down.
Settling into his chair, he stretched his legs out in front of him. “I’m not sure I ever mentioned that to you before.”
“That my door is open. I tell the crew often, but it occurs to me that I probably haven’t given you the same courtesy.”
She clicked her tongue. “Ah.”
“Communication, I believe, is a wonderful thing. Don’t you agree?”
Rubbing her hand across her mouth, she sighed deeply and nodded. “I’ve made a terrible mistake. I realize that, and I’m sorry for the position I put you in.”
A smile tugged at his mouth as he looked down. “Thank you, Captain. It means a lot that you’ve come here to tell me that.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You’re smiling.”
He hummed his agreement. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach you about this without making matters worse. Your apology is not what I expected.”
“What did you think I came here to talk about?”
“The next stage in your plan.”
“Plan?” Shaking her head, she admitted, “I have no further plans. I suppose it would be different if Mr. Jonas were still alive.”
Chakotay looked up at the ceiling. “Yeah.”
She studied him for a moment and then asked, “Were there any signs we missed?”
“I don’t know,” he said, discouraged. “He has always had a chip on his shoulder, but so do many of the Maquis. They’re either malcontents or crusaders.”
“I suppose that’s a true statement.”
He took a shaky breath. “Do you have suspicions about anyone else on my crew?”
“Our crew,” she corrected.
His eyes flicked to her and he raised his eyebrows. “You sure about that?”
Holding up her hand, she replied, “As I said, I made a mistake by distinguishing between the Maquis and Starfleet crew. A big one.”
“Mistake or not, it still shows that the Maquis haven’t earned your trust. I’d like to figure out how we can do that, if it’s possible.”
She frowned. “I trust you and Torres.”
“I don’t think you do. Not completely.”
“Commander, you know…”
He interrupted, “I don’t fault you for it. If anything, I envy your caution. Perhaps if I’d kept my people at arm’s length before trusting them, I wouldn’t have had spies, traitors, and murderers among my ranks.”
Kathryn set her cup down and moved closer to him, extending her hand. When he took it, she said, “Let’s make a pact, you and I.”
“Friendship.” She smiled.
Hesitantly, he replied, “All right.”
“Believe that I trust you, even though I don’t always show it. I’ll try to be better about that in the future, but I tend to get focused on what I'm doing and fail to put myself in other people's shoes.”
He was instantly more relaxed. “I tend to be too accepting. I want my people to do well, and I believe that if I have enough faith in them, they will come through.”
“That makes you a good leader.” She looked down at their clasped hands, and noticed that his gaze followed hers.
He gave her hand a squeeze and stroked his thumb across her knuckles. “Thank you, Captain.”
From his simple touch, she instantly felt a warm thrill that took her breath away. She found that she didn’t want to let go of him, and, for just this once, she decided not to. Squeezing his fingers back, she began, “I…”
Softly, he interrupted, “I know how hard your job is. Not just being a captain, but trying to blend a bunch of rogues into the ranks while fighting your way through this quadrant. I want you to know that you’re not alone. I’m with you every step of the way.”
She met his eyes and her heart melted at the sincerity and loyalty she saw there. “You’re a remarkable man, Chakotay.”
“Thank you.” He squeezed her hand again and released it. In a lighter tone, he suggested, “This friendship idea of yours has some merit. What do you say we try to spend more off-duty time together?”
“I’d like that,” she replied quietly.
“Do you play velocity?”
She nodded. “I’m decent at it. Would you have breakfast with me now and then? We can talk about the day and make sure we’re on the same page.”
“A good idea.” He relaxed in his chair.
Quickly, she added, “Breakfast in the mess hall, I mean.”
Chakotay tried not to show his amusement. “That’s what I assumed.”
“Yes, well…” She rubbed her face, sure that her cheeks were turning a deep shade of pink. “I don’t want to breach propriety.”
“You don’t need to worry about that with me, Captain. I’m pretty easy going.”
“I… ah… Yes… What I mean to say is that yes, I can see that.”
Smiling at her slight discomfort, he suggested, “A weekly dinner in our quarters might be a good idea, too. I did that with my last captain because we were working opposite shifts.”
“But we see each other all day.”
“Yes, but it would be nice to have some time alone to get to know each other better. We’ll be better able to rely on each other’s instincts and mannerisms if we’re more comfortable around each other.”
“All right.” She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. “I can see that.”
He winked and gave her a smile. “Once we fine tune our command partnership, I feel confident that I’ll be able to anticipate not only your command decisions, but your needs as well. That’s my goal.”
“That’s very gracious of you, Commander.”
“It makes more sense than having the two of us butting heads. I just want you to know that I’ll support you in every way I can, provided I know what your agenda is.”
“And that’s my goal – to make sure you know. Back when I was first promoted to captain, I promised myself that I wouldn't forget what it was like to be on the senior staff, how hard it was to follow orders I really didn't like, especially when I didn’t understand the big picture.”
“Yeah, but I've been a captain. I know how easy it is to think of your staff as tools to use in getting the job done.”
“I don't think of you as a tool.”
Smothering his smile, he cleared his throat. “Of course not, Captain.”
Once she realized what she’d said, her blush moved over her face with a renewed intensity. “You know what I mean.”
“Yes, I do,” he chuckled and then sighed, more serious. “However, the truth is that you used me, Captain, and I don't like it. If you want my loyalty, you have to respect me more than that.”
“I do, and I will strive to show it.”
She looked earnestly at him. “We’re okay now, aren’t we?”
He gave her a reassuring nod. “Yes, we are.” Leaning forward, he said, “Now, tell me something about yourself. I know you like to read, but do you have any other hobbies?”
“I dabble in a little painting. Nothing to write home about.”
“Oh? I have enjoyed sand painting, but I haven’t done that for awhile. Do you use watercolors or oils?”
“Oils, mostly. The watercolors are too hard to control.”
“Have you ever tried sculpting?”
“No, I haven’t. You?”
He shook his head. “My mother used to mold clay. She said it was a good way to relieve stress. I wonder if you might find the tactile properties of the art form therapeutic, too.”
“You might be onto something. I like working with my hands and I miss touch. More than anything, I miss my dog.”
Chakotay laughed. “Your secret is safe with me.”
“Secret?” she mused.
“I won’t tell your fiancé when we make it home that you missed your dog ‘more than anything.’”
She clamped her hand over her mouth. “Oh dear. I meant… I miss…”
“I know what you meant.” He reached over and patted her forearm. “I had a pet when I was a child and there’s just something about the unconditional love of an animal.”
“There’s nothing like it.” She closed her eyes and tried to steady the well of emotion that sprang up every time she thought of her Irish Setter.
“What’s his name? Or is it a female?”
Kathryn smiled. “Her name is Molly. She was expecting a litter when I left her with Mark.”
“Did you breed dogs?”
“No, can’t really do that and be running off to command a starship every few months. The breeder who sold her to me asked to breed her because he had a lot of people requesting the puppies. He took care of all the logistics, so to speak.”
Chakotay laughed. “Logistics?”
She rolled her eyes. “Do you always jump on innuendo?”
“Not always.” He winked at her. “Never on the bridge.”
Kathryn shook her head in amusement. “I came here tonight expecting an argument, and instead, I’ve discovered that, while you’re very forgiving and understanding, you’re also a big flirt.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No,” she replied immediately. With a shaky breath, she added, “It makes me feel a little more human, like there’s more to life than the obligations of commanding this ship twenty-four hours a day.”
“Good. Let’s make that part of our pact, then. Flirtatious behavior is allowed while in the pursuit of friendship.”
She held up a finger. “When we’re alone. I can’t have you making me blush around the crew.”
“It’s a deal.” He nodded towards her cup. “Refill?”
“As much as I would love to keep talking to you, I really should get some rest.”
“Breakfast tomorrow?” He wiped the sudden smile off his face as he added, “In the mess hall.”
“Sounds good,” she said as she stood and walked towards his door. Turning before it opened, she held out her hand for a handshake. “Thank you, Commander.”
“You’re welcome.” He took her hand and placed a chaste kiss on her knuckles. “Good night, Captain.”
“It is now.” She retracted her hand and gave him a bemused smile as she turned and left his quarters.
On the way to her quarters, she rubbed her knuckles where his lips had touched her hand. They were tingling, and she chuckled at the brief notion that she might not want to wash her hand before bed. The evening had definitely not turned out how she expected. Yes, she had hurt him. Yes, she had used him. But, in the process of offering an apology, she had learned a lot about the man. And she liked what she had learned… a lot. She felt a renewed sense of optimism about the coming years, knowing that his friendship would alleviate some of her loneliness and isolation.