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“Hey.” he said as he entered the Ready Room and found her sitting at her desk.
“Are you not done yet?” he asked when she didn’t look up from her screen.
“Just a minute,” she said, lifting one hand but still not looking up.
He took a quick look into her cup and seeing that it was empty, he strode to her replicator and ordered a cup of coffee for her and a tea for himself. He carried the beverages to her table and made himself comfortable on her couch, quietly waiting for her to finish whatever it was she was doing. She seemed deeply engrossed in her reading and typed just a few words between deep sighs. When she gave no intention of joining him after several minutes, he quietly cleared his throat. She looked up at the noise and seemed genuinely surprised to find him sitting on her couch.
“Your coffee’s getting cold.” He grinned at her.
“Sorry, I forgot you were still here.” She smiled apologetically, closing the document she had been working on and walked over to him.
She took the now lukewarm coffee and grimaced when she tested the temperature. She quickly gulped the whole cup down and got herself a fresh coffee.
“I just saw B’Elanna,” Chakotay remarked neutrally, gauging Kathryn’s reaction. “I was going to haul her over the coals, but she seemed so rattled, I didn’t have the heart to do it.”
“That would be on me,” she said, sipping innocently on her fresh, hot coffee.
“I’ve never seen her like this before. What did you say to her?”
“I told her that she disappointed me.”
“That’s it?” He asked incredulously.
She shrugged in answer and he marveled at the change B’Elanna had undergone since she came aboard Voyager; her transformation since Kathryn Janeway had decided to put her trust in her.
“What?” Kathryn asked when she saw Chakotay shake his head in amusement.
“In all the years we worked together, B’Elanna has never been as shaken by disappointing me as she is now.” He raised his cup and nodded in praise, “You’ve worked wonders on her.”
“She did that all by herself,” Kathryn gave back, waving off his compliment, “But you’re right, she’s come a long way.”
“Don’t underestimate the effect you have on them, Captain,” Chakotay encouraged her. “They may not have shown it today, but your approval means a lot to them. To all of them.”
“If there’s an upside to this whole situation,” she smiled hesitantly, “it’s that they all disobeyed my orders together.”
“Seska’s still adamant that she was following your orders, since you made it clear that our first priority is to get home.” He chuckled slightly, although bothered by the fact that Seska was still defending her insubordination.
“To some extent she is right,” Kathryn frowned, “and that makes it so damn hard to discipline them.”
“They can’t interpret your orders however they choose, Captain,” Chakotay tried to reason. “You gave them a direct order and they chose to ignore it.”
“Of course not,” she agreed, “and I’m angry for that. But I can’t help but feel a little exhilarated at what they did.”
“Because you couldn’t violate the Prime Directive?”
He knew she wanted to get home as much as anyone on the ship, maybe even more so. She had indeed made it their first priority when they had started this journey together, and the disappointment after Telek R’mor was still lingering. It really wasn’t any wonder the crew had taken to such drastic measures. Everyone wanted to get home, better yesterday than tomorrow.
The truth was, Kathryn felt deflated. Her anger at the crew had given her brain something else to do rather than dwell on the disappointment of having their hopes of getting home repeatedly pulled out from under their feet within a matter of weeks. She felt like the Delta Quadrant was playing one cruel joke after the other on them. The crew did exactly what she would have wanted them to do if she could have set aside her strict adherence to Starfleet rules. Tuvok had been right. She had been in a moral dilemma and had seen no way out. But her anger wasn’t only directed at the crew and her own seemingly hopeless situation. She was angry that the whole thing could have been avoided, had they known that the technology would never be compatible with their ship’s systems.
“They were brave and stupid and impulsive when I was not,” Kathryn relented after a few minutes of pregnant silence. “When I failed to be the captain they needed, they stepped up and were the crew I needed.”
Chakotay just nodded. There was nothing to say. He understood exactly what she meant. She had said it quite clearly. It was the first time they were on the receiving end of the Prime Directive and she had expressed her own dilemma before the situation had escalated when she frustratedly exclaimed that ‘the high and mighty have fallen’.
“How am I supposed to discipline them,” she asked quietly looking down into her cup, searching for answers in the dark liquid. Searching for the consolation she knew it couldn’t offer. “How? When I would have traded just about anything to get us home?”
She didn’t look at Chakotay. It wasn’t as if she really expected him to answer her question. It’s not like they weren’t suffering already. Instead she kept staring into her coffee, concentrating on her breathing and the sound of his, waiting for the sting in her eyes to go away. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat that just wouldn’t dissipate, but she already knew it was a losing battle.
Chakotay watched Kathryn struggle against her emotions. The crew’s disappointment was palpable all over the ship and he suspected Kathryn might even feel worse. The twinge in his stomach when he heard Seska’s comment about Janeway being too infatuated with Gath to do anything had been replaced with a deep worry for her; a strong urge to enfold her in a warm embrace and tell her things would be okay. Even while he wondered what exactly it was that she would have been willing to trade for a fast way home, he watched the pain flutter across her features and the telltale movement of her throat and knew that she was doing anything in her power to keep her tears at bay.
“They are already punishing themselves...” He wanted to add the ‘Kathryn’, his tongue already forming her name, but that might be crossing the unspoken boundary. He didn’t want to call her Captain either at the moment, not wanting to impose the distance between them that the use of her rank would create. So he settled on not adding anything, but reaching out his hand to grasp hers that rested on the couch.
He squeezed her small hand and was surprised when she didn’t pull away but returned his squeeze with a sigh. Chakotay was relieved that she let him comfort her. He marveled at the contrast of her small hand in his large one, and the differences in their skin tones. He wanted to tell her that she wasn’t alone, that she could trust him, always. And when he saw the single tear escape and roll down her cheek, he wanted to wipe it away and tell her it would get better, easier, with with time. But he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t cross that boundary and he refused to make promises he knew he couldn’t keep. So he just held her hand and let her draw from him whatever it was that she needed.
Before her stray tear could fall from her chin , Kathryn pulled her hand from under his and quickly wiped it away. Immediately the moment was gone and Chakotay saw her mask slip back in place as she turned and smiled bravely at him, one corner of her lips tugging up slightly.
“Should I keep an eye on Seska?” She asked, looking for anything to say to cover up her short moment of weakness and remembering that Chakotay had mentioned Seska’s refusal to acknowledge her disobedience.
“Don’t worry about her.” He assured her, “I have it under control.”
He didn’t want her to worry about Seska. For many reasons. Reasons he couldn’t yet explain to Kathryn even though he wasn’t exactly sure why. What he was sure of, was that after the day they just had, he didn’t want Kathryn to worry about anything more than she had to.