Shattered Control

By Dawn

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: None

Summary: J/C - Kathryn is ready to make a change, but is Chakotay?

Disclaimer: Voyager and its characters belong to Paramount Pictures. No infringement intended - just improvement.

Thanks to Jadie and Phancy for their beta work, and to Mizvoy for her thoughts and ideas.

"So that's when Vorik told B'Elanna what she could do with her suggestion." Chakotay took a sip of his tea and put it back on the coffee table.

Kathryn laughed and leaned against him. "And what did B'Elanna say?"

"Nothing, nothing at all. She just stood there and blinked at him, completely dumbfounded."

"I wish I could have been there to see that."

"I don't think he would have had the nerve to say that in front of you."

She sighed. "No, I suppose not."

"I think sending B'Elanna with you, Harry, and Tom on the away mission tomorrow will be a good break for the engineering department."

"And Tom was very happy about it too."

Chakotay enjoyed these quiet evenings with Kathryn in her quarters. When she stretched and snuggled a little closer to him, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and said, "When you return next week, would you like to take a hike on the holodeck?"

"You don't think I'll be too exhausted from tromping around in caves mining dilithium all week?"

He laughed. "You're the one who wanted to get off the ship."

She turned her face up to his. "Whatever we do, I'd love to spend a day with you."

He looked down into her eyes and swallowed. This wasn't the first time she had presented him with an opportunity to kiss her, but as in the past, he tried to find a way to avoid it. He started to reach for his tea when he felt her hand on his cheek.

"Chakotay." She turned his face toward her and lifted her lips to meet his. The kiss was soft and warm with a passion that made him dizzy.

When she pulled back, he said, "This probably isn't a good idea."

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she said, "Probably not. And neither is this."

His brain told him to pull away, but his lips didn't care to submit. When her tongue danced across his lips and encouraged his mouth to open, he found it impossible to resist. The sensuousness of her mouth was more arousing than his dreams had ever dared to imagine. Her hands found their way into his hair and her body moved closer. Before he lost all ability for coherent thought, he reached behind him and pulled her hands down, breaking the kiss.

"Kathryn, I think we had better call it a night."

"A night?" She stared at him, disbelieving. "You want to stop?"

"I think it would be best." He pulled away from her and stood up to leave.

"I finally decide that I'm ready for a relationship and you want to call it a night? I expected you to be excited about it."

"I'm sorry, but I just don't think we should jump into anything." He moved toward the door and turned back. "We can talk about it when you get back." He saw her astonished stare as the doors closed behind him. He took a deep breath and touched his mouth where her lips had been only moments earlier. With her leaving in the morning and gone for a week, he would have time to think about how to handle this situation.

It wasn't five minutes after Chakotay had returned to his quarters when his chime rang. When he called for the visitor to enter, Kathryn took about two steps into his quarters and stopped.

"You don't want to jump into anything?" She stood with her arms crossed.

He put down the PADDs he was organizing. "I'm not ready to have this conversation."

"I see." She was silent for a long moment before she calmly said, "No, I don't see. I thought you wanted more from our relationship. Am I mistaken?"

He bowed his head while he collected his thoughts. When he looked up at her again, he said, "Kathryn, you are the most important person in my life, and I don't want to jeopardize our friendship or our working relationship by having an affair while we are serving together."

"An affair?" She stepped closer and put her hand on his chest. "I'm certainly not interested in having a little tryst with you, Chakotay, and I believe our friendship will only grow stronger if we take the next step."

His heart hammered in his chest as he covered her hand with his. "I'm not as certain of the outcome as you are. Would you give me some time to think about this?"

"Will a week do?"

He smiled. "It's a start."

Pulling her hand away, she said, "All right. I probably won't see you before I leave in the morning. Would you do something for me?"


"Don't make any final decisions about us without talking to me."

"I'll try."

"Thanks. However, while you're thinking, remember that I have an entire week to strategize on how to convince you."

Chuckling, he said, "And we know how you are when you put your mind to something."

She headed out of his quarters, but turned back just before the doors closed behind her. "Oh, and try not to dream about me." She winked just as they closed.

He shook his head, chuckling at her flirtations.

Four days later, Voyager finished its assignment to scan beyond a nebula and returned to the rendezvous point ahead of schedule. Chakotay walked around the bridge making his daily bridge station checks so that he could turn the ship over to Tuvok. He wanted to take advantage of the slow afternoon to meditate.

His thoughts had been in turmoil during his off-hours and he was starting to suffer from the lack of sleep. If he was going to engage in a debate with his commanding officer upon her return, he wanted to be well rested with his thoughts in order. She might even try something tricky like changing tactics and he needed to be sharp. Not that he wouldn't love to have a romantic relationship with her, but he knew the dangers all too well and refused to let that come between them.

As Chakotay was leaving the bridge, the ops officer said, "Commander, we're receiving a transmission."

Chakotay headed back towards the ops station. "What kind?"

The officer's fingers were flying over the controls. "It's a distress call from the Delta Flyer."

"Let's hear it."

Tom's image came up on the main viewscreen. "Voyager, do you read me?"

Chakotay said, "Loud and clear. What's wrong?"

Distraught, Tom answered anxiously, "We have a severe medical emergency. All other members of the away team are in severe respiratory distress and nothing I've done is helping. Tell the Doctor to prepare for three code whites."

Chakotay's heart constricted. Code white meant that Tom expected them to be dead by the time they made it back to Voyager. "Flyer, we're on our way." Chakotay called to the helm. "Set a course, warp eight, and engage." He turned back to the screen. "What happened, Lieutenant?"

"They beamed down to a cave on the second planet and were immediately attacked by an insect of some kind. Their skeletal muscles are gradually becoming paralyzed and they're obviously in pain, but I haven't found any way to help them." As Tom's words rushed by, Chakotay and the rest of the bridge crew grew more and more anxious to get help to the away team as soon as possible.

Tom turned his attention back towards the aft compartment of the Flyer and then told Chakotay, "Someone is in respiratory arrest. I'm putting the Flyer on autopilot and I'll try to be back before we rendezvous."

"Keep an open com link." Chakotay moved down to the lower level of the bridge and gripped the rail behind the helm. "What's our ETA?"

The helmsman answered. "Ten minutes, sir."

Chakotay called out, "Paris, ten minutes."

They heard Tom yell, "Understood!"

Everyone on the bridge was silent as the stressful minutes ticked by. Chakotay paced in front of the command chairs, trying not to worry and contemplating if there might be a faster way to get the shuttle back to Voyager. When they were within range, he called out to the Flyer, "Paris, we're here. We need you to drop out of warp."

Tom's voice was panicky. "I can't leave! I'm losing them!"

"Hang on, Tom!" Chakotay turned to the helm. "Match course and speed with the Flyer. Tuvok, ready a tractor beam. Ops, stand by for transport." He tapped his communicator. "Lieutenant Ayala, report to the transporter room immediately."

Tuvok said, "Commander, transporting at warp is extremely dangerous."

Voice like steel, Chakotay said, "I don't see that we have any other choice. We're going to transport Ayala over there so he can bring the Flyer out of warp and then we'll transport the away team directly to sickbay."

Tension on the bridge was high as Voyager came about and pulled into position above the Flyer. Tom yelled out, "Commander! I've lost B'Elanna!"

Chakotay could tell that Tom was starting to crumble. He called out, "Hold it together for just a couple more minutes, Tom. We're here and we're sending Ayala over."

They could hear Tom's voice yelling at the captain to hold on. Chakotay was doing all he could to keep in control of the situation and not let his emotions get to him.

Tuvok said, "Tractor beam locked on."

Turning to ops, Chakotay said, "Send him over."

Once the transport was complete, Tuvok dropped the tractor beam and the Flyer dropped out of warp. As soon as Voyager returned to normal space, the away team was beamed to sickbay.

Chakotay headed to the turbolift and said, "Good work, people. Tuvok, make sure that Ayala is okay and then have him bring the flyer into the bay. Make sure we go over it carefully so there's no chance of that bug getting on Voyager. You have the bridge, I'll be in sickbay."

"Aye, Commander."

Chakotay ran to sickbay as fast as his feet would take him. When he arrived, the cacophony of alarms and voices was overwhelming. Tom, Seven, and Sam were simultaneously yelling out the conditions of the patients to the Doctor and he was shouting back instructions. It appeared to Chakotay that all three patients were in respiratory arrest and the Doctor was putting each one on respirators. Evidently, the Flyer hadn't been equipped with the medical equipment to fulfill the intense medical needs of all three. Harry had been the first to go into arrest and he got the only respirator onboard.

Trying to stay out of the way, Chakotay moved over to Kathryn's bed, glad that it was the closest one to the door. Sam was monitoring the functions of the biobed while the Doctor was moving between patients, taking readings, and injecting each with numerous hyposprays. B'Elanna had obviously been revived, and Tom was watching her closely. Seven had Harry in her care and she was intently scrutinizing his bio-signs.

Not able to keep up with all of the medical terminology that was flying around, Chakotay concentrated on Kathryn's condition. Her face was bright pink and very swollen, and she had a breathing mask over her mouth and nose. He stroked her hair away from her face and whispered in her ear. "Hang on, Kathryn. You're going to be fine. Just hang on."

Only a few minutes later, Chakotay jumped up as the alarm on Kathryn's bed went off and the Doctor rushed over to scan her.

The Doctor shouted, "Her airway is swollen shut. Paris, I need to intubate."

Tom left B'Elanna to get the supplies needed and rushed to Kathryn's bed. "Do you need assistance?"

The Doctor took an apparatus from Tom and put it into Kathryn's mouth, using it to insert a tube down her throat and into her lungs. It forced her airway open and the Doctor reattached the artificial respirator. As air moved into her lungs, the Doctor gave her a hypospray to re-oxygenate her blood and they all watched the monitors intently as she took more deep breaths.

When the alarm stopped a minute later, Chakotay let out a breath that he didn't realize he was holding.

The Doctor said, "Nothing I'm giving her is reducing the swelling. She's having a different reaction than the other two and I haven't determined the cause."

Tom said, "Her skin turned bright pink and she developed welts immediately after I pulled them out of there. Harry and B'Elanna didn't have anything like that."

Chakotay asked, "Could she have been bitten by something different?"

"It's quite possible that there was more than one insect." With this new hypothesis, the Doctor took another scan. "I'm going to do another blood analysis on her. Maybe I can find something that will help with the inflammation."

When the Doctor finished his analysis and left with Sam, Chakotay leaned down and kissed Kathryn's puffy cheek. "Don't scare me like that, Kathryn. I don't think my heart can take it."

Less than an hour later, the Doctor asked Chakotay to join him in his office while Sam changed Kathryn into a sickbay gown. "Commander, I can't find anything that will help with the Captain's swelling, but I can report that all three are going to be fine."

Breathing heavily in relief, Chakotay said, "That's good news."

"Each has dozens of insect bites, mostly on their hands and faces." Chakotay shivered as the Doctor continued. "The closest thing I can compare the venom to is curare, a potent poison developed from plants on Earth."

"I've heard of it. It was used for hunting."

"That's right. It attacks the muscular system and the lungs, paralyzing the victim and causing asphyxia. Luckily, this insect venom behaved likewise and their other organs were not affected."

"Have you come up with an antidote?"

The Doctor turned his computer monitor towards Chakotay and pointed to two different bio readings. "No, but I don't think I need to. This is a scan of B'Elanna when she first arrived, and this one was taken just a few minutes ago. You can see the difference already."

Chakotay pulled at his ear. "Difference in what, exactly?"

"The natural enzymes in her muscular tissue are reasserting themselves. In other words, the paralysis is fading. All three patients should regain full mobility within 14-16 hours. However, the captain may be here a bit longer depending on how quickly the swelling subsides."

Relieved that they were going to be okay, Chakotay asked, "Is there anything we can do to help?"

"The respirators are keeping them oxygenated now, so it's best just to let them recover naturally. If they start to experience pain again, I can give them something."

"Not that it will help, but may I sit with the captain for awhile?"

"Certainly. And it actually will help her."

Standing, Chakotay asked, "So I should speak to her like I would if she were in a coma?"

The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "Just don't say anything you don't want her to hear."

Chakotay chuckled at the Doctor's humor as he left the office and returned to Kathryn's side. He pulled up a stool next to her and called for the privacy curtain in case he fell asleep. The sounds of sickbay faded away and he became tuned in to the sound of the respirator that was keeping Kathryn alive.

He sighed deeply, thinking about how he had been totally unprepared for the way his heart had frozen when he found out she was hurt. It certainly wasn't the first time she had been in danger, but this time it felt different. It was like his entire world could come crashing down on him at any second if he lost her. Did two kisses really make that much difference? The passion had been intense, but he couldn't believe that the passion would affect him as it did.

"Kathryn." He took advantage of her semi-comatose state and touched her hair. The silkiness fell softly through his fingers as he drew the strands away from her face. He remembered his sister enjoying having her hair played with and thought perhaps Kathryn might also.

"My sister would like you. Someday, I hope you two can meet." Not sure exactly what to say, he just started talking. "Maybe at our wedding. I'm going to marry you someday, Kathryn. Not today, not on Voyager, but when the weight of the world isn't on our shoulders anymore. That's when we'll be free to love each other."

Almost hearing her argument, he picked up her hand and continued. "I'm not saying that I don't love you now. On the contrary, I love you very much. I remember the first time I saw you... I knew you were a spitfire, and that you were going to cause me trouble. I was looking forward to it, too. I'd never encountered an opponent so enticing. We've been through so much together and the fun isn't over yet. No more of this code white stuff for you. My heart just can't take that. Do you have any idea how worried I was?"

He stared at her, waiting for her to answer. "I didn't think so." He brought the back of her hand to his lips and kissed it softly. "Well, I'll tell you. I was flat out scared. I've never been so scared in my life - and that's saying something. I meant it when I said that you were the most important person in my life. If I could, I'd show you. I'd take you far away from all of our burdens and spend the rest of my life loving you."

Touching her swollen cheeks and eyelids, he said, "How can I convince you that I love you without giving into desire? Maybe you already know and that's why you kissed me. You and I both know how dangerous getting involved can be. Are we really strong enough to bear the pressure that would put on us? At times, I think so, but every once in awhile, I worry that I've made a decision based on how I feel about you rather than what's best for the ship. Or I've let you go on some foolhardy mission because it's important to you, knowing full well that I shouldn't let you, for the sake of this crew. This is just so damned complicated."

He rubbed her hand in between both of his, kissing her fingers, and hoping for clarity on what he should do. "Those two kisses, Kathryn, were amazing. I've dreamed of what it would be like, but nothing I have ever imagined came close to what I felt." He exhaled shakily. "I should probably change the subject because talking about this certainly isn't helping my resistance efforts."

Putting her hand down, he stood and straightened the blanket that was covering her. He spent a few minutes telling her about the doctor's prognosis for her and the others.

He yawned and sat down again. "Now I'm getting sleepy and it's only 19:00. He lowered the stool and rested his arms and head on the bed next to her. "Do you mind if I lie here next to you? I think I'll just…" He paused to yawn. "Just close my eyes and drift for a bit." It wasn't long before he was asleep.

A few hours later, Chakotay woke with a stiff neck. After checking on Kathryn and placing a tender kiss on her cheek, he stood up and de-activated the privacy screen. Sickbay was dark except for the slight glow above each patient's bed and the light in the Doctor's office. He checked the time and couldn't believe that he had dozed for three hours. It was just after 22:00 and he realized that he needed to go relieve Tuvok or whoever was on bridge duty. He chastised himself for not knowing.

He quietly checked on B'Elanna and Harry and saw that they were in about the same condition as Kathryn, just without all of the puffiness. Tom and Seven were sitting by their sides, both intently monitoring their patient's condition. He went to the sickbay office to check in with the Doctor before he left.

The Doctor looked up and saw Chakotay trying to massage the kink out of his neck. "Commander. I was worried when I saw you sleeping like that." He picked up a hypospray and injected the contents into Chakotay's neck. "That should help."

"You shouldn't have let me sleep that long, but thanks." Chakotay relaxed as soon as the drugs kicked in. "How is everybody?"

"They're all recovering as I expected. By morning, the paralysis should have subsided." Looking Chakotay over, the Doctor said, "Commander, why don't you lie down on the vacant biobed next to the Captain. You look like you could use the rest."

"No more than Paris."

"Mr. Paris isn't about to leave B'Elanna's side. He is still shell-shocked over losing her earlier."

"I can empathize with him." Chakotay yawned.

"Commander, either take the extra biobed or return to your quarters. You need to sleep."

"I wish I could, but I need to be on the bridge." Chakotay turned to leave the Doctor's office and then stopped to ask, "Will you call me if anything happens?"

"Of course. Let me do a quick scan before you leave." They walked over to the captain's bed and the Doctor took the readings. "She's doing fine. The poison is gradually leaving."

"She still looks very swollen."

"Yes, she does. We'll see how she's doing in the morning, before we start to worry."

That didn't comfort Chakotay much, but he was too sleepy to argue. "All right. You know where I'll be if you need me." He waited until the Doctor left before he leaned down to whisper, "I hate to leave you, but I need to go take care of your ship. As soon as you wake up, the Doctor will call me and I'll be back as fast as I can." He paused for a moment before adding, "And I really do love you. I hope you know that." He gave her hair one last touch and headed to the bridge.

The next morning, Chakotay returned to sickbay and heard Tom and B'Elanna chatting as soon as he walked into the room. Before checking on his favorite Klingon, he looked in on Kathryn and saw that she was in about the same condition as when he left. He kissed her forehead, told her he'd be right back, and went to check on B'Elanna.

"Good morning!" Tom said to Chakotay.

"I'm happy to see you in better spirits this morning, Tom."

"Chakotay, get over here so I can see you!" B'Elanna called out.

Chuckling, Chakotay moved to the head of the bed. B'Elanna could move everything from the neck up and wiggle her fingers, but not much else. "Glad to see you're feeling better."

"This stinks," B'Elanna said, looking rather unhappy.

"I know, but you're doing much better."

"But I still can't move!"

Chakotay squeezed her hand, "I know, but you'll be able to soon."

Changing topics, B'Elanna asked, "Hey, did you and the captain have a fight before we left?"

Frowning, he asked, "What makes you ask that?"

"I don't know. She was just acting weird on the shuttle, got lost in thought a lot when there was nothing to do and whatever she was thinking about, she didn't look happy. I figured only you could do that to her."

"I had no idea that I could distract her from millions of kilometers away." Chakotay winked. "I'll have to remember that."

They all turned when they heard the sickbay doors open to admit Seven. She nodded at them and went straight to Harry's side. When she discovered that his eyes were open, she called the Doctor and he removed the respirator to see if Harry could breathe on his own. He had a little trouble at first, but soon got it under control. Chakotay went over to greet him and filled Harry in on everything that had happened.

Chakotay left Seven and Harry alone to talk and went back to sit with Kathryn. He noticed that while her swelling had gone down some, she still looked pretty bad. He ran his thumb gently across her cheek and jumped up when her eyes opened. "Kathryn!"

Her eyelids fluttered in the bright light until Chakotay called for the lights to dim. He squeezed her hand and said, "You're okay, Kathryn. You're okay."

Scanning her, the Doctor said, "Don't try to talk, Captain. You have a tube in your throat."

Kathryn was able to nod and turn her head slightly to look at Chakotay. He asked, "Do you know what happened?" He touched her forehead as she nodded slightly.

The Doctor said, "Captain, you're breathing without the respirator so I'm going to shut it off, but the tube will stay to keep your airway open."

Chakotay squeezed her hand as the Doctor worked. When he was finished, she struggled for air for a moment, but soon was able to breathe easily.

After the Doctor left, Chakotay sat down and continued to hold her hand, stroking it gently with his thumb. "Usually when you wake up, you want to know how the ship is doing. Would you like me to tell you?"

When she nodded, he gave her the report. "The scans beyond the nebula were inconclusive at best. There just wasn't anything there. We got enough dilithium from the first planet that you mined, that I've decided to go on to the next system. Early scans indicate the presence of deuterium and galacite, which I think will make you very happy."

He watched her nod and blink slowly as if uncomfortable. Not sure what he could do, he continued. "That system ahead is uninhabited so we don't anticipate having too many problems." He watched her face contort and asked, "Do you want me to get the Doctor?"

She shook her head slightly and looked into his eyes. He assumed that meant to continue. "All right. Well, I guess I can give you a report on the rest of the away team. B'Elanna and Harry are fine, both recovering but still with limited mobility. Your situation is a little different because you seem to be having an allergic-type of reaction to something and the Doctor hasn't found a treatment for it yet."

Kathryn was starting to move her head a little more and was obviously uncomfortable. Chakotay asked, "Are you in pain?"

She shook her head, her face becoming slightly agitated.

"I'm getting the Doctor."

When Chakotay and the Doctor returned, tears were streaming out of Kathryn's eyes and her face was contorted in obvious agony.

"Okay, Captain," the Doctor said, "I'm going to take this tube out so you can tell us what's wrong."

She nodded, eager to get it out, as the Doctor peeled the tape from the end of the tube off of her face.

"Take a deep breath if you can, and I'm going to pull on your next exhalation." He waited for her to breathe in and then pulled it out. She started coughing uncontrollably, but still unable to move her body. The Doctor said, "Relax and try to breathe."

As the coughing lessened, she was finally able to speak. "Itches... bad."

Chakotay asked, "Where?"

Breathing heavily, she managed to say, "Everywhere. Horrible."

The Doctor said, "I'll be right back."

Kathryn turned to Chakotay and said, "Glad… you're here."

He stroked her hair. "I wouldn't be anywhere else."

"Breathing is…," Her breathing was sounding forced and wheezy. "…hard."

"Your airway might still be a little swollen."

She nodded and asked in between wheezes, "Scratch my hands?"

Picking up both of her hands, he started rubbing them vigorously. "Does this help?"

"No." The wheezing was getting worse. "But touch… feels good."

Chakotay turned to yell for the Doctor and saw that all eyes in sickbay were on them. Everyone was obviously very worried about Kathryn. He called out, "Doctor?"

"I'll be there in just a moment."

Tom came over and took one look at Kathryn and called out, "Doc, you're gonna have to put that tube back in."

Kathryn shook her head and said, "No… please," even though she was now struggling for every breath. Her chest appeared to be lifting off of the bed, even though they knew she couldn't possibly be controlling that movement.

Chakotay dropped her hands and moved to her head. He leaned down and put his lips at her temple and said, "It'll be okay, Kathryn."

"Need… speak." Her words were barely recognizable as she started to sound like she was gagging.

"Doooc… Now!" Tom called out and got the equipment needed to re-intubate.

"Shhhhh… don't try to talk." Chakotay wished like hell that he could breathe for her.

The Doctor arrived and quickly traded Tom a hypsopray for the intubation equipment. As Tom injected the spray, the Doctor had the tube back in her throat in a matter of seconds.

Chakotay watched as Kathryn's lungs filled with air and her agitation calmed. Her eyes were closed, but her cheeks were wet with tears. Over and over, he stroked her forehead and temple, drawing back her soft hair.

The Doctor gave her a few more hyposprays before speaking to her. "Captain, you're going to be okay. I've given you a relaxant with an anti-itching medication. The best thing we can do now is to wait this out and I'm going to help you sleep through it."

Keeping her eyes closed, Kathryn nodded and let her head relax with Chakotay's touch. When she appeared to be relaxed, he gently wiped her tears away, "You're okay. Everything's going to be okay."

He placed a kiss on her forehead. She looked up at him for a moment and raised her eyebrows in question. Chakotay knew what she was asking, "Yes Kathryn, I'll be right here." He gathered her tousled hair and gently pulled it to the side. "Close your eyes and rest. I'll be right here." She nodded and drifted off to sleep.

Even though the medical equipment was keeping track of Kathryn's vital signs, Chakotay felt the need to watch her carefully to make sure she was still breathing. He gently rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand, desperately needing to feel that small connection with her. He wasn't aware of much else that was taking place until Seven interrupted his thoughts.

"Commander?" She continued when Chakotay looked up, "Is the captain going to recover? Ensign Kim and I are concerned."

"Of course she will. The Doctor has given her something to sleep so she'll be more comfortable."

"Would it assist you if I stayed by her side so you could rest?"

Chakotay was confused by the question at first until it had a moment to sink in. "I must look tired."

"Extremely. I regenerated while you were on the bridge. I am capable of helping the Doctor watch both patients."

Chakotay looked around sickbay for a moment while he considered the options. He called Tom and the Doctor over. "Unfortunately, we can't all stay in here all day and night. Seven has just reminded me that I desperately need sleep."

"I agree," the Doctor said.

"Paris, I want you to return to your quarters to sleep in preparation for taking the bridge during Beta shift. You can come back here after your shift. Seven, I want you to stay here and assist the Doctor for the rest of Alpha shift. I'll sleep now, be here for Beta, and take the bridge for Gamma. Understood?"

Everyone nodded in agreement and left to carry out his orders. Tom went to tell B'Elanna, and Seven left with the Doctor to receive instructions. Chakotay leaned down to place a kiss on Kathryn's cheek. "I'll be back later." Knowing she was asleep, he added, "I love you."

That evening, Chakotay spent several hours by her side reading reports. The Doctor kept Kathryn sedated as his treatments gradually reduced the inflammation. By the next morning when Chakotay returned after his shift, her puffiness had almost gone away completely and the tube had been removed.

His movement waking her, Kathryn turned to him and opened her eyes. "Hey, stranger."

He picked up her hand and was a little surprised to feel her squeezing back. "Sorry that I haven't been able to be with you."

Shrugging, she said, "Someone's got to run my ship, I guess."

"Do you want a report?"

"Still on our way to the system with the galacite?"

He smiled. "Yes, and all is quiet."

Closing her eyes, she said, "'nough for me."

"How do you feel?"

"Sleepy. I'm so drugged up that I feel light headed."

"But you aren't in pain and you don't itch everywhere?"

She shook her head once and let it fall to the side, looking at him. "Nope." She smiled sleepily. "Tell me a story."

Chuckling, he said, "Okay, what about?"

"I don't know. You're the storyteller… Maybe one about a sleeping woman warrior and her prince charming that gives her a kiss to wake her up and they live happily ever after."

He laughed. "I think you just told the whole story."

"No… I didn't get my kiss."

Lowering his head, he softly kissed her cheek.

"That's not a kiss that's gonna wake me up."

"No, it's not. You need to sleep. We'll save those kisses for another time."

She closed her eyes again and asked, "Promise?"

"I promise."

"I don't think you're going to keep that promise." She looked up at him with a hopeful glimmer in her sleepy eyes. "Unless you've changed your mind about us?"

Sighing, he said, "I think we should wait to discuss this when you're more awake."

"So you have changed your mind?"

He chuckled. "You're wheedling. Go to sleep."

"You're procrastinating, but okay. I'm…" She yawned. "Sleepy anyway."

"I'll stay with you while you fall sleep and then I'll be back later." She nodded while he gently rubbed her arm to coax her back to sleep.

The next morning, Chakotay helped Kathryn back to her quarters and then spent the day on the bridge. He was on his way back to visit Kathryn when Tom and B'Elanna stopped him in the corridor. Chakotay asked, "B'Elanna, shouldn't you be resting?"

"I'm tired of resting."

Tom said, "The Doctor suggested that walking would be therapeutic."

As Chakotay thought about how to get Kathryn walking later, B'Elanna said, "If you ever make me go within five light years of a spider again, you're going to be right there beside me to keep it from touching me."

"I'll remember that… protect fearless B'Elanna from bugs," he said, amused. "I bet you're glad it's over though."

"You can say that again. But I tell you what, it was nice having Tom talking to me while I was unable to move. He made it a lot more bearable because I knew that he was there and he told me what was going on around me. I don't ever want to feel that defenseless again."

A sinking feeling flooded over Chakotay as he realized that Kathryn probably heard everything he had said. "You were conscious the whole time?"

"Yeah, it was awful. Harry was saying that it would have been much better to be asleep and I agree."

Tom asked, "You didn't know that, Commander?"

"The Doctor mentioned something, but I thought he was joking."

B'Elanna asked, "What did you say?"

Chakotay looked at Kathryn's door. "Too much, I'm afraid." He turned back and said, "I'll catch up with you two later. I think the captain and I need to talk."

After they wished him good luck, he rang the chime to Kathryn's quarters. Once inside, he found her walking around with a lot of difficulty and helped her sit in a chair next to the sofa.

"I'm not that fragile, Chakotay."

"Maybe not, but you look it." He sat across from her.

"Anything exciting happening on the bridge today?" The Doctor had her on medical leave and it was obvious that she was already getting bored.

"Not really, no." Chakotay thought for a moment about dismissing the conversation with Tom and B'Elanna, but knew he'd be up all night worrying about it if he didn't deal with it immediately. "Kathryn, may I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"Were you conscious while paralyzed?"

"I think I drifted in and out, but I definitely remember having trouble breathing."

He tugged on his ear. "So could you hear what was happening around you?"

After studying him for a moment, she said, "You want to know if I heard what you said to me."

Hesitantly, he nodded his head. "Yes."

With a sigh, she said, "I don't know if I heard everything, but you did say a lot that you probably wouldn't have, had you known."

"I see." He swallowed deeply, trying to figure out what to say next.


He stopped her. "Were you planning on telling me?"



"I was formulating a strategy."

He stood abruptly. "A strategy? You were going to use my words against me?"

"Of course not. I wouldn't do that."

He paced over to the viewport and stopped. "I shared…" His embarrassment prevented him from speaking.

She stood slowly and stepped up behind him. "Chakotay, I didn't mean to embarrass you. I know you didn't realize that I could hear you and I didn't want to say anything. But with what you confessed, I thought perhaps I could find a way to convince you that a relationship would work between us."

"You have no idea, Kathryn." He didn't think she could possibly understand how he felt, knowing that his heart had been laid open when he had tried so hard to keep it closed and guarded.

"What? No idea how it feels to have the person you love facing death?"

He shook his head. "No, unfortunately you and I are all too familiar with how that feels. I'm talking about how it feels to be completely exposed. I've tried so hard to keep our relationship professional… to protect us."

"From each other?"

He closed his eyes. "I'm not putting myself into a position where I have to balance my official duties with my private needs again. I made poor choices as a leader and I lost too much of myself."

Placing her hand on his back, she asked, "Do you really put me in the same category as Seska?"

"No, but you already have control over my time, duties, and decisions. You tell me what to wear and what rules to live by. How can we have an equal relationship under those conditions?"

"After all these years, you still resent the uniform… and you resent me for making you wear it."

He shook his head. "No, I don't resent you. I still have issues with Starfleet, but I wear this uniform for you and for Voyager."

"Then you don't want to change the rules to make us more equal?"

He turned to her. "No, I think what we have in place is working well. I'm going to be blunt with you, Kathryn. I need my independence in my personal life. I do love you, but I think we need to wait until we reach Earth to explore a romantic relationship."

She focused on him as she thought carefully for a minute. "You don't want to change anything about our command structure?" She continued when he shook his head. "And you don't want me to have control over our personal lives?"

"That's right."

"So, then, you be in charge of our relationship."

He laughed. "Like you could ever take a backseat when it comes to making decisions."

Serious, she said, "Chakotay, I'm not playing games. I have no ulterior motives for gaining control over you or using you for any sordid purpose. This is love… plain and simple. I'm talking about relaxing in each other's embrace, sharing our off-duty time together, being intimate, and making a long-term commitment. I'm not going to tell you how to live your life any more than I already do as your captain. You aren't the type that would allow me to control you and I sure as hell wouldn't want to."

"You don't seem to be taking no for an answer."

"Do I ever?" She raised an eyebrow. "You already love me, we spend most of our time together, and from what you said in sickbay, your emotional well-being is already wrapped up in your feelings for me."

He started to object and she raised her hand to interrupt. "And my happiness is already very dependent on you. I honestly don't know what I'd do without your love and friendship. I know I'd survive, but I can't imagine that I would ever be as close to anyone as I am to you. All I'm asking is for you to acknowledge this."

He listened carefully to her words and had to agree. She was an essential part of his life, regardless of whether it was his duty to be or not. And yes, he was usually thinking about her or wondering what her thoughts would be in any given situation. "So you think I'm being a hypocrite?"

Puzzled, she asked, "Did I say that?"

"You're suggesting that I'm avoiding this relationship when I'm already in it up to my neck."

She shrugged. "If the shoe fits…"

He had a decision to make, knowing that she wouldn't let it go as long as she thought it would work. She might drop the conversation for now if he asked her to, but the subject wouldn't be closed and he was certain it would interfere with their friendship. It was time, he decided, to put their strength to the test. He grabbed her around the waist and brought his mouth to hers. The sudden movement and the intensity of the kiss caused her knees to buckle and he had to hold her entire body tight against his to keep her standing. She moaned into his mouth as the passion overwhelmed her senses and the intoxication of it spread through her like fire.

When he ended the kiss, he pulled his face back to look at her. With eyes closed, lips parted, and hands holding his arms tightly, she looked heavenly to him. Quietly, he said, "Just so you know, there has never been a day since I met you that I haven't wanted to take you into my arms and do that."

She opened one eye, and then the other. "Not even one?"

Chuckling, he said, "Okay, maybe one."

"So this means you're willing to give this a try?"

He shook his head. "No." Her confusion urged him to continue. "If we start this, it's forever. I'm not going to try it out for a few weeks and then call it off."

She leaned her head to the side, and with a little sarcasm, said, "Good to know." She smiled slowly and said, "So does that mean you want to make this official?"

"Marriage? Isn't that jumping the gun a little?"

"Just trying to subjugate my Maquis prisoner so that he'll obey my every whim."

Laughing, he asked, "Oh, Is that it?"

"Mmmmm hmmmm." She nuzzled her lips against his jaw.

He felt light headed as her breath danced across his skin. "You're going to be trouble, you know."

She kissed him softly and then said, "Thank you for this."

"I don't think it will be easy, but I'm going to enjoy it."

"Kiss me."




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