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He watched her from the corner of the galley. He had been watching her for quite some time, although he couldn’t say exactly for how long. When he first entered the mess hall, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Crew morale could have been better, but that was almost always the case. Considering the events of the last few days, he considered morale to be exceptionally high. Then he spotted the lone figure in the far corner sitting by herself, her back turned to the room. That in itself was unusual.
From where he stood he could see her alternating between gazing out the viewport and picking weakly at the food on her plate, pushing it from one end of the plate to the other. Not once did she lift the fork to her mouth; not once did she turn around to look at anyone in the room. He wondered what had made her come to the mess hall instead of dealing with her misery in private. When he saw a crewman had noticed him staring at her and followed his gaze to notice the Captain as well, he decided to go over to her.
“Captain, you are demoralizing the crew.” He joked but slapped himself internally when he saw her stiffen.
When she started to turn towards him he put a hand on her shoulder and sat down across from her. At the sight of her First Officer, she leaned back and gave him a weak smile. There was no need for words. He knew she was miserable and she knew that he knew. There was no need to hide it and no need to explain it. So he just sat and took in her appearance.
There were dark circles under her eyes. Barely noticeable to anyone else and concealed by her light makeup, but definitely there if he looked close enough. Her mouth was in a thin line and her forehead was furrowed with worry. Her shoulders were slumped and she seemed to be swallowing with a little more difficulty than normal. Was she trying not to cry? He looked around the mess hall and sighed when he saw that a few other crew members had noticed them by now and threw worried looks at their captain and towards each other.
“How bad is it?” She asked quietly.
“Not as bad as I would have expected,” He answered honestly as his eyes roamed the room for her.
“I’m making it worse, aren’t I?” This time she looked at him expectantly waiting for his honest answer.
“Pretty much.” He admitted, “but they hadn’t noticed you until I came over.”
She nodded in acceptance, but didn’t say anything. He wanted to say something to make her feel better but understood that this wasn’t the time. She needed to mourn this brief flicker of hope and he realized humor wouldn’t be helpful now. She kept pushing her food around her plate and when he saw that her cup was empty, he decided that she needed to get away from the crew. Or maybe the crew needed her to get away from them for a little while.
“Do you want to talk about it?” He asked.
She stopped the movements of her fork and swallowed hard before she looked at him again. “Not here.” She said barely audible.
When she stood up he hesitated for a moment unsure whether or not she wanted him to follow her. The stark contrast between her flirtatious mood the week before, her fiercely contagious hopefulness just hours earlier and her current mood threw him for an instant. When she turned back around to see if he followed her, he quickly recovered and jumped up, drawing the looks from quite a few crew men.
He marveled at the speed with which she put her command facade securely in place. The gloomy look of earlier replaced by the stern but friendly expression she usually wore. Her chin tilted up slightly and the corners of her mouth curled upward almost imperceptibly, giving her a softer, more positive appearance. He was amazed when he saw her give the room a once over, making the few crewmen that had looked at her worriedly earlier relax visibly, before she walked out.
She purposefully strode down the corridors without saying anything, and he noticed with some amusement that without checking with him she had chosen his quarters as their destination. He had never been in her quarters and briefly wondered if that was intentional. Without a word she waited for him to key in his code and grant her entry. As soon as the doors opened she stepped through them and to the side leaning back against the bulkhead with her eyes closed.
Chakotay stepped in after her and let the doors close behind him. He watched her carefully and when he reached out and put a hand on her upper arm, she opened her eyes and lifted her own arms signaling him to step back a little. He understood. She needed a moment to collect herself so he clasped his hands behind his back to keep himself from reaching out again. She looked up at the ceiling and took a few deep, steadying breaths before she drew both her hands across her face and sighed heavily.
“Thank you.” She finally breathed.
“No problem,” He said gently eyeing her with compassion, “Anytime.”
Seeing that she seemed little more composed he moved for the couch and sat down. She followed suit and sat across from him, crossing her legs and looking at her own fidgeting hands in her lap.
“I should have been more guarded with the crew.” She finally said.
“Maybe you just needed the company.” He offered kindly.
“It’s only been three months, Chakotay,” she started, “but the prospect of seeing my family made me realize how much I miss them.”
She looked out the viewport, unable to look at Chakotay, half expecting him to either say something to comfort her, or speak of his own disappointment. But he didn’t. He just sat in silence, having decided to let her speak her mind.
“We probably would have been married by now.” She said quietly.
“We hadn’t set a date yet.” She explained. “We wanted to decide when I got back from this mission.” She huffed.
“Then you’ll decide when you get back from this mission.” He replied eyeing her carefully. “At least he’ll know that you’re alive.” He stared at her when she let out a small chuckle.
“I guess you haven’t heard?” She looked at him in disbelief, thinking that the news would have spread faster than that, “Mr R’Mor will die before he can deliver our messages.”
He had not heard about thas. He had felt bad for his colleagues when it was clear they would not get home, but he knew they felt at least some relief from knowing their families and friends would know about their fate. And strengthened by that knowledge she had promised to get them back home, but at the moment she seemed as if she didn’t really believe her own words. She just looked so defeated and it was an awful contrast to the infectious exuberance of earlier. He wondered if he should tell her that only about two thirds of the crew had even bothered to prepare personal messages.
“You don’t seem too heartbroken by the news.” She stated, interrupting his thoughts.
“I’m not.” He replied honestly. “I didn’t even compose a message.”
“You didn’t?” She looked at him with surprise written all over her face. Although they had this conversation before, she was surprised to hear that he hadn’t bothered to let anyone at home know he was alive.
“At least one third of the crew don’t have anyone left behind who’d honestly care if they are alive one way or the other.” Although he did register slight shock on her face, she nodded slightly, letting that sink in. “And it’s not just the Maquis.” He added, giving her further food for thought.
“But everyone seemed so happy. B’Elanna, you…” she trailed off, not understand what had driven them to feel so exhilarated at the news of getting home when they didn’t have anything or anyone waiting for them.
“I’m not saying that we don’t want to get home,” he reassured her, “but we were more than delighted to see all of you so happy. We could practically feel your excitement bubbling over. I was more worried about this happening.” He gestured to her and she immediately understood what he meant. She smiled and her heart warmed a little at the obvious compassion.
“Tell you what,” He said, shaking her out of her silent reverie, “You keep that pretty head of yours up and I’ll buy you a drink.”
He smirked at her and she couldn’t help but laugh brightly. Leave it to him to point out the one silver lining. At least they had replicators back online.
“You’ve got a date.” She explained, giving him her most radiant smile.