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“Captain.” Chakotay called as he rounded the corner and saw her emerging from her quarters.
“Good morning, Mr Chakotay,” she smiled tilting her head a little to look at him when she fell into step next to him, “on your way to the bridge?”
“To the mess hall, actually.” He replied, “I’m looking forward to ration pack number three.”
“Oatmeal,” she chuckled, “sounds delicious. I’m heading that way, mind if I trot along?” she asked, knowing he didn’t mind at all.
“Not at all.” Came his expected answer.
“So, how is the crew?” she inquired, knowing he had a better insight into the crew’s morale than she had.
“Spirits are pretty high. I would have expected them to be more on edge after a week of rations and limited replicator use. But it seems they manage better than we could have hoped.”
“That’s good to hear.” She nodded then added, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to find an M-class planet to restock our food and energy reserves soon?”
“If we want them to keep off each others’ throats in the long run.” He laughed.
When they reached the mess hall, he was about to enter when he noticed she had kept going and was a few steps ahead of him, heading for her private dining room.
“You’re going to eat in there?” He asked.
“I usually do,” she shrugged, “when I have the time.”
“That must get terribly boring.” He stated.
“I don’t usually stay for long.”
“Still, don’t you get lonely eating by yourself all the time?” When she just shrugged again, he added, “Why don’t you come and eat in the mess hall with me?”
“I couldn’t.” She shook her head, although not very convincing.
“As a captain, I need to keep a certain distance.” She explained, “And I don’t think the crew would be comfortable with me in there. I wouldn’t want to put a damper on their mood.”
“Well, there is no one else out here. Surely you can’t be expected to remain by yourself for the next 70 or so years?” He asked incredulously.
“I’m not counting on taking that long.” She countered.
“They’ll get used to it.” He tried again when she still seemed uncertain, but obviously tempted by his offer.
“I really couldn’t,” she finally said, “but I would care for some company. You’re welcome to join me, if you want to.” She offered instead.
At this, he nodded. “Unfortunately, the food in here isn’t any better.” She apologized.
“What, no scrambled eggs and bacon with freshly brewed coffee?” He asked, the humor evident in his voice.
“I wish.” She rolled her eyes in mock dismay.
When they stepped inside, Chakotay noticed that the room wasn’t really big. It was equipped with a small table, accommodating no more than four people. There was just enough room to move around the table, but no more. He could imagine getting claustrophobic if he had to eat in here too often. Especially if he were eating alone.
“This is where you eat?” He asked, not sure what to think of it.
“Rarely,” she said, “I usually have barely enough time for a cup of coffee in the morning.” She gestured for him to sit on one end of the table. “I’m sorry, you don’t have to stay.”
“Nah, it’ll do.” He grinned and took his seat.
“Ration pack number three, you said?” she asked when she moved to the cabinet with the ration packs. “Are you sticking with that?”
“Yea,” he grinned, “It’s one of the more edible ones.”
“I’ll try it then.” She nodded, taking out two ration packs and ordering a cup of coffee and a cup of herbal tea from the replicator.
He beamed when she set the tea in front of him, appreciating that she had obviously paid enough attention to remember his drink of choice. When she sat down across from him and took her cup of coffee, he watched her disbelievingly. She lifted the cup to her nose and closing her eyes,she inhaled the odor of the black liquid. She took a sip, letting it roll over her tongue and moaned quietly. Her features relaxed visibly and her shoulders seemingly dropped a few inches.
“I guess it’s a good thing you don’t do that in the mess hall.” He jived. She looked at him with a quizzical look for a few seconds before she realized what she had just done and blushed a crimson shade.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it.”
She dismissed his apology and set her cup down. “So how is the crew, really?” She was curious, positive he had downplayed things earlier.
“Bickering about ration packs, but nothing serious.” He replied nonchalantly. “And they are anxious to use the holodecks. They are bored more than anything.”
“Bored?” She asked.
“Well, they see the same people, eat the same dry food, do the same things every single day. It’s bound to get on their nerves sooner or later.” He didn’t seem to think much of it and that reassured her. “How about you?”
“How are you, really?”
“I could just say, I’m bored as well.” She offered and grimaced when she tried the oatmeal.
Chakotay grinned. “Not to your taste?”
“Too bland and not exactly the texture I prefer for my food.” When he kept looking at her expectantly, she added, “To be honest, I’m a little worried about the expanse of space lying before us.”
“More so than usual?” He queried.
She nodded, “Mr Neelix says there will be a plant rich in dilithium, but it’s a few weeks from here and he doesn’t know anything about the area between in between.”
“And you’re worried the crew will go rampant if they have to eat ration packs for another few weeks?”
“Yes and no,” she admitted, “it’s more flying into the unknown that bothers me. It’s the first time that Mr Neelix doesn’t know what to expect. I’m not really comfortable not knowing anything at all about what awaits us.”
“I’m confident that you’ll get us through.” He gave her a dimpled grin and she could see that he meant it.
“Thanks for your vote of confidence. I’m not sure I deserve it.” She admitted.
“Sooo,” he said slowly to gain her attention and direct her thoughts somewhere else, “did you hear about Tom Paris’ newest exploits?”
“No, but I’m always open to gossip.”
“Not gossip, Captain,” he admonished, “sharing of facts.”
“Well then, shoot away with your facts, Commander.” She laughed.
“He’s trying to get Mr. Kim to go on a double date with the Delaney twins.”
“But Mr Kim has a fiancé at home,” She exclaimed.
“Apparently that was Mr Kim’s defense as well.” He chuckled.
“And Mr Paris is still trying to get him in trouble?”
“Well, he keeps telling him to move on and let his girlfriend go.” He bit his tongue as soon as the words were out. He had not meant to steer the conversation in this kind of direction at all.
She couldn’t say which was worse - the fact that there were people who had already given up on ever reaching home or the steadfast reliance of those who held hope against all hope to find a fast way home in the near future.
“Tom Paris isn’t really baseline material, you know?” He tried to make his faux pas better.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, as far as I understand it, he has nothing to gain by getting home, but everything to lose.” She nodded slowly. She could see the sense in that.
“What about you, Chakotay?” She asked, curious how he viewed his situation.
“I can’t complain.” He shrugged. She didn’t say anything but just kept looking at him, cocking her head to the side. “Okay, okay…but I’m serious. I really can’t complain. Many of the Maquis can’t complain.”
“But…” she started but was stopped by his hand on her arm.
“I’m serious, Captain. If we were in the Alpha Quadrant we would be fighting for our lives and if we got home tomorrow we would all end up in prison.”
“You can’t be serious.” She replied, setting her fork down.
“You were sent to capture us.” He argued and she couldn’t really reply to that. He was right, after all. “There isn’t even a guarantee that we would still be alive.”
She wasn’t sure what to think. He made it sound like half the crew was glad to be stranded in the Delta Quadrant. But they did want to get home, did they not?
She looked so forlorn, obviously torn between all those raging thoughts and emotions and he wondered how long it would take her to lose sight of all those ideals and values she so desperately seemed to rely on now. He knew all about lost ideals and shifting values because reality shifted, because in the discrepancy between real life and wishful thinking there was no room for those ideals.
Yes, he wondered. But he also hoped that fate would grant her a long time before forcing her to change and harden. Because anyone who could climb the ranks of such a military organization this fast and still retain an aura of innocence while in command deserved to be allowed to hold on to that. He knew he would do his damndest to grant her that. He had nothing to lose after all, unlike her.
"Ready to start your shift?" He said when he saw she was no longer eating but only picking at her breakfast, "I hear the Captain's pretty tough. I wouldn't want to be late and disappoint her."
"Must be rough serving under her then." She gave him an appreciative smile as she put her fork down and stood up.
"It's alright," he laughed, "she makes up for it when she smiles."
She blushed at that and didn't reply as they headed out the door and he decided to let it slide. This time.