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“Have you tried it yet?” Kathryn gestured towards his plate as she sat down across from Chakotay.
“Call me a coward,” he grinned, “but I don’t think I’m brave enough for that today.”
Chakotay observed Kathryn as she took her mug from the tablet and took a sip. He tried to decipher whether the anger from earlier was still there and if some of it was directed at him. If it was the case, he felt that he deserved it. He had brought Seska aboard. He had defended her even though everything pointed in her direction. And he had let his Captain down by letting his past with Seska influence his judgement. All Kathryn did though, was look at him and not say anything.
Kathryn on the other hand wasn’t sure what she could say to him. She was aware that Chakotay felt guilty and probably disappointed. There wasn’t much she could say to make it better so she just sat in silence and waited for him to say something. That’s why she was here after all. As a friend, not as his captain. If he needed to talk about it, she would be willing to listen.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said. When Kathryn didn’t reply, but looked down on the table and bit her lower lip, he felt the need to clarify, “for bringing a traitor aboard your ship.”
At his last statement, Kathryn’s head shot up and she searched his face, her eyes full of compassion. “Hey,” she started, setting down her coffee and laying her hand over his, “there’s no way you could have known. This isn’t your fault.”
“I knew Seska didn’t see eye to eye with you or Starfleet, I just never thought she would actually betray you out here.”
“She betrayed all of us,” Kathryn argued, “and you thought she was loyal to you.”
“I was a fool. I let my past with her cloud my judgement.” He shook his head.
“You defended a crewmember,” Kathryn assured him, “and you thought you knew her. You’re only human. We all make errors in judgement.”
“”Sorry,” He clenched his jaw and looked straight at Kathryn, “but that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“What do you want me to say, Chakotay?” Kathryn leaned back in defeat, “That it was your fault? That you endangered the crew by trusting a Cardassian spy?”
“That pretty much sums it up.” He shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Then you might as well blame me.” She crossed her arms over her chest, mirroring his stance. “Every single member of this crew is under my command. I’m responsible for all of you, so I was responsible for Seska as well. I didn’t see it coming and neither did anyone else. Hell, B’Elanna was working with her every day and didn’t notice anything. Are you going to blame her as well?”
Chakotay couldn’t help but notice the gleam in Kathryn’s eyes and the way she tilted her chin up in challenge, knowing fully well, that she would win this argument. If he was honest it wasn’t just about Seska’s betrayal of his command. This was on a personal level.
“Doesn’t mean, I can’t feel foolish about it.” He said, finally giving in and leaning back forward.
“Well then, let’s feel foolish together.” Kathryn smiled and uncrossed her arms, “and I wanted to apologize.”
“My enemy of the Federation comment was inconsiderate,” she said, “I might as well have suspected all the former Maquis.”
“You have nothing to apologize for.” It was his turn to smile, “Hindsight is my enemy here.”
They looked at each for a moment before she laid her hand back over this and tilted her head to catch his eyes, searching for a clue as to how he really felt, “All jokes aside, Chakotay, how are you really holding up?”
It was a simple question and Chakotay could see that she genuinely cared, but his answer wasn’t simple. He didn’t know how he could explain the myriad of things he felt in regard to Seska, himself and the woman sitting across from him. He wanted to tell her that he had never loved Seska. He wanted to tell her how much her opinion of him mattered to him. How was he supposed to explain to her that he wanted to make her burdens lighter, not add to them? This wasn’t the time nor the place for this.
“My ego is pretty bruised,” he settled on saying instead and smiled weakly, “but I’ll get over it.”
Chakotay became heavily aware of Kathryn’s hand on his and when she didn’t pull it back, his eyes searched the room for any crewman who might have noticed and misinterpreted their interaction. The last thing he wanted now was for the crew to gossip about them.
Kathryn noticed Chakotay’s sweep of the room and misreading his reasons behind it, blushed and quickly pulled her hand back. I should really get a grip on those wandering hands of mine, she thought when Chakotay’s head spun back around and he gave her a questioning look.
“I’m sorry,” she said, the blush still evident on her cheeks, “I didn’t mean to overstep.”
“You didn’t.” He quickly protested, reaching over the table to grasp the hand she had just pulled away and giving it a gentle squeeze before letting it go again. From the corner of his eyes he saw Tuvok entering the mess hall and walking over to the table they occupied. He gestured in the Lieutenant’s direction with his head and stood up.
“Thank you for caring,” he said as he took the plate with his untouched food, “that really helped.”
“Always.” She nodded, giving him one of her lopsided grins, and watched him divesting himself of his plate before Neelix could notice. When he had rid himself of the offending food, he saw her lift her fork and quickly returned to her, leaning down close to her ear.
“Word of advice, captain, I’d skip this one.” She met his dimpled grin with a raised eyebrow and a bemused smile.
She was still looking down and trying to smother her chuckle when Tuvok stopped at her table. “Captain, do you mind if I join you?” The Vulcan asked with a raised eyebrow at her amused expression.
“Of course not, Tuvok. Please.” She gestured towards the seat Chakotay had just vacated.
After the day’s events she had known that Tuvok would seek her out sooner or later and was glad that she had caught a moment with her First Officer beforehand so that she could stop worrying about him when she talked to Tuvok. She knew Tuvok well enough to know that he would want to talk to her alone and she wanted to make sure that Chakotay understood fully that she didn’t blame him or any of the Maquis for Seska’s betrayal, that there were no misgivings from her end. It was of utmost importance for her that Chakotay knew that she trusted him fully. She closed her eyes for an instant and took a deep breath before concentrating on Tuvok and the qualms she knew he would have about the status of the former Maquis.