Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and the characters therein belong to Paramount, and have been borrowed from me on a temporary basis with no intention of harm and no expected monetary gain! I also thank Jeri Taylor for the setting of New Earth - it was a gift to the world of J/C, one which we have cherished and nurtured, and a place that we shall never let die...
Summary: A ship crashes down to New Earth, bringing changes for everyone.
This work of fiction owes its existence to the girls in the Koffee Klub, who generously gave me the original idea behind the story and pestered me relentlessly until it was done. This one's for you gals, I hope you like what I did with it.
It Began With A Storm
Dawn broke on New Earth to a windy day, with clouds covering the sky; leaves rustled in the trees and raced along the ground. Kathryn Janeway sat on the grass with her back resting against the shelter and her eyes taking in her surroundings. It was a sight she was going to have to get used to. Since the day when her research efforts had been abruptly brought to a halt she had been slowly coming to terms with her situation; she was never going home, this was her home now.
Surprisingly that thought didn't upset her as much as it once had. New Earth wasn't a bad place to be; the scenery was beautiful, they had everything they needed to live comfortably, and she was with her best friend. When it had happened she wasn't quite sure, but sometime during the two years she had spent aboard Voyager the Maquis rebel she'd been sent to apprehend had become her closest companion, someone she couldn't imagine being without.
As the wind slowly started to pick up Kathryn recognised the telltale signs of an imminent plasma storm and made her way back inside. The shelter was now fully protected against the effects of the storms, even to the extent that they had replicated alternative materials for the windows to enable them to look out at the raging weather without fearing that the pane would give way in front of them. Kathryn had been especially keen on pursuing this option rather than just reinforcing the existing windows with shutters. It not only gave her the freedom to marvel at the sheer power of the storm, but also meant that if a storm was to hit when they were both too far from the building to get back then it didn't matter that they hadn't been able to close the shutters.
On this particular occasion Kathryn was gazing through the window as Chakotay behind her was fiddling about with something in the kitchen. Neither spoke to the other, leaving a peaceful silence to descend over the shelter, broken only by the occasional howling of the wind outside or the pounding of rain on the roof. Kathryn observed broken twigs flying through the treetops, and plasma bolts flashing across the darkened sky.
Then something caught her eye. It was only visible for a second, but she was sure she saw a trail falling across the edge of her vision. It looked like a small ship, one that was most definitely in trouble. The blaze of light had been moving downwards, consistent with the crash-landing of a craft slightly bigger than one of Voyager's shuttles. Whatever it was, it definitely warranted further investigation.
"Chakotay, could you come over here a second?"
"Sure, hang on." Chakotay put down the object in his hand and made his way towards Kathryn, stopping only when he was standing behind her with his hands resting on her shoulders. "What is it?"
"I'm not sure, but I think I just saw something out in the storm. It looked very much like a small vessel crashed into those woods over there - have you explored much in that direction?"
"A little, although not extensively."
"Is it difficult to get out there?"
"Not really. Why, what are you thinking?"
Kathryn paused a little to gather her thoughts before she again spoke to her companion. "If it was a ship crashing out there they could need help, and we are in a position to offer it. I think we should go out there and see what we can find."
"You could be right, but we should wait until the storm dies."
"What if they're badly injured? The storm may not pass for hours yet, and that could determine whether someone lives or dies."
"And whether or not we wait could determine whether *we* live or die. I'm not going to have either of us risk our safety to go after what we can't even be sure was a ship. Once the storm's cleared we can be more thorough, carry the right equipment out there, and be more prepared for what we may find. Even if it is a ship there's no guarantee that it's a friendly one. What if it were Vidiian? They'd love to know there were other people stuck on this planet for them to harvest body parts from."
"Point taken. We go when the storm's calmed down, we take any equipment with us when we go and we approach slowly; but Chakotay, just think what it could mean to our lives here if that was a ship and we ended up with company down here."
"Assuming they're friendly and assuming that they can't repair their ship and leave, you mean?"
"It would be...different; and something to get used to. I've grown accustomed to it being...just the two of us."
Kathryn turned quickly in an attempt to take a look at Chakotay's face, but she wasn't quite quick enough. Chakotay had turned away from her and was headed back towards the kitchen, well aware that his expression would tell Kathryn things he knew she was still not comfortable knowing. Nonetheless, Kathryn was fairly sure of what she would have seen. She knew how Chakotay felt about her, about their situation, and she wasn't even pretending to herself any longer that she didn't want the same things. She just wasn't ready to let it happen yet, she had to be 110% sure that these emotions had been there before they were stranded on this planet and were not routed in some misguided sympathy for her best friend's feelings.
Turning instead to find the med-kit she got on with the task of preparing for their would-be rescue mission, feeling surprised at the sudden sense of purpose this occasion had given her. A mission, an objective, a goal; things that had been sadly lacking from her life in recent months, and things that she hadn't realised how much she had missed.
Out in a battered metal shell, the slight stirring of a single body disturbed the deathly peace that pervaded all around. The single humanoid figure slowly sat up, and then rose to its feet. Taking in its surroundings it was obvious that the damage was extensive; a scattering of holes let beams of sunlight penetrate the darkness of the otherwise enclosed environment, and an array of wires hung loose from breaks in the circuitry all around the vessel. Debris from the torn interior lay strewn across the floor, partially covering the humanoid's companions. Going to each in turn it checked their life signs - one dead, one alive. Barely. And they just didn't have the medical equipment on board to cope with that kind of trauma. Sinking down to the floor next to it's sole living companion, the humanoid pulled them into its arms and wept.
Chakotay followed Kathryn as she continued her fast pace through the woods. How or why she wanted to keep up this kind of pace was beyond him. They had scanned the area with a tricorder before they left only for it to show no signs of any shuttle nearby. Convinced that she had been right in seeing a craft crash, Kathryn had proceeded to repeat the scan using the instruments in their shuttle. With their longer range they would be more likely to pick something up, and they had. A shuttle had indeed crashed onto their planet but much further away than Kathryn had at first anticipated - Chakotay had estimated it would take them two full days to reach the area on foot. Yes, they could have been there much quicker had they taken the shuttle, but they couldn't be sure of somewhere easy to land and they didn't want to get caught out in another storm while flying it - after all, they could never replace it.
As he turned the corner of the trail they were following the glint of metal from the left side of his chest caught his eye. He wasn't yet used to wearing his communicator again. Neither Kathryn nor Chakotay had given them a second glance since Voyager left communications range all those months ago, but now they had had to dig them out again; the universal translators contained within them were the only way they were going to be able to communicate with any survivors they may find.
He had wondered more than once how the revival of the devices was affecting Kathryn, with their Starfleet emblem a constant reminder of all they had had to give up. She did seem to have accepted their situation on New Earth, but at the same time he had not failed to notice the enthusiasm with which she had taken on this 'mission'. It only served to remind him how much more at home she had been back on Voyager. He'd always known that Kathryn belonged on a starship, she had said it herself – she was a child of the 24th Century. Now it was brought home to him more than ever before that she also needed something to put her mind to. Command suited her, having a goal suited her. Living on this planet for the rest of her life did not. For the first time since Voyager had left their region of space, Chakotay prayed for its return with all his heart.
"Chakotay," Kathryn's voice interrupted his trail of thought. "I think we should stop for lunch soon, I'm starving."
"Kathryn, you're not starving, you're just hungry." Chakotay replied with no small amount of humour in his voice.
"You sound just like my father saying that, *not* an image I want to retain."
"And why not?"
Kathryn had no reply for that, but her face betrayed her as a rosy blush crept up her cheeks. Damn her fair complexion. Chakotay couldn't fail to notice the colour of Kathryn's cheeks, which in turn filled him with a warm feeling inside. He lived for moments like those; any moment where Kathryn showed some sign of her feelings for him was retained in his memory for those lonely nights. Realising however that she herself was far from comfortable knowing she had given away something like that, he went back to the subject at hand.
"I think lunch is an excellent idea. How about we stop right here? There's a nice grassy patch just there, under those trees. It would be a perfect place to stop and have a rest."
Kathryn nodded her head in assent, and the two of them made their way over to their picnic spot side-by-side. Dumping their bags on the ground, they both lowered their tired bodies down slowly beside them.
"So what did you bring for us to eat, Chakotay?"
"I was supposed to bring the food?"
"Chakotay, please tell me you didn't..." Kathryn's voice trailed off as she saw Chakotay try to hide his rapidly growing grin. He should learn that no one could hide those dimples. She paid him back with a friendly whap around his left ear. "I don't believe you sometimes."
Chakotay started pulling food out of his bag to avoid any further gibing from Kathryn. Kathryn, meanwhile, was examining something on her tricorder; it soon became clear what it was.
"We've made good time. According to the maps we downloaded we're over a quarter of the way there."
"Actually, I didn't expect us to able to keep up this kind of pace. It's been a while since either of us have had to keep up any kind of fitness regime, so I assumed we'd take longer to reach the craft than we might have done a year ago."
"It seems you may have assumed wrong."
"Maybe all the manual work we've both done here has kept us fitter than we first thought."
"Now I come to think of it, it has been a while since manual work has left me aching all over."
Memories of the day early after that first plasma storm came flooding back to Chakotay. A glance in Kathryn's direction left him unsure as to whether she was thinking the same thing. He decided not to dwell on it.
"Well, it looks like getting to the ship by tomorrow night isn’t going to be a problem, we may even make it not long after lunchtime tomorrow."
"Great. The earlier we get there, the more chance we have of helping anyone who may have been injured."
Chakotay merely nodded, his thoughts returning to how this whole situation was affecting Kathryn. He loved seeing her this animated, this alive, and it was beginning to show as another grin spread across his face. Of course, Kathryn didn't fail to notice.
"You're grinning again."
"So spill it."
"I was just thinking... it's nothing. Let's move."
"Another five minutes? I just want to sit for a minute or two longer."
"Sorry, sure, we'll go whenever you're ready."
"You're not going to tell me what you were thinking about, are you."
"No, I'm not."
He did. They sat in silence for what ended up being another quarter of an hour, then moved off to continue their trek through the woods.
()()()Kathryn and Chakotay continued their journey for the remainder of that day and most of the next morning before they started to see the signs of a nearby crash. At first it was just singed leaves and branches high in the treetops that gave any clue as to what had happened. Then slowly the signs became more pronounced, with broken vegetation and the odd piece of debris creeping in. Scans showed the debris to be mainly pieces of tritanium hull, the standard for most ships Kathryn had come across in the past.
Completely immersed in following the trail, the pair of them forgot about lunch and picked up their pace. Pieces of debris grew larger and closer together as they neared their destination, until finally Kathryn stopped dead in her tracks; Chakotay had to skirt around her to avoid walking straight into the back of her.
There, not more than a few hundred metres ahead, was the alien ship.
It was badly damaged; that much was easy to see with their eyes alone. Chakotay took his tricorder out to scan the vessel before they moved any further forwards, hoping to give them more of an idea what they were dealing with. Two life signs appeared on his screen.
"We have two life signs, Kathryn. One is weak, but they're both there." Kathryn started to move off at a run, leaving Chakotay to shout after her. "Kathryn, wait!! We don't know who they are, they won't know who we are! If we go running in there they could just shoot at us with a phaser and that'll be the end of us!"
Kathryn visibly slowed as she took in what he was saying, and then stopped to wait for him to catch up. He jogged over to meet her so that she could speak to him without shouting.
"So what would you suggest?"
"Approach slowly, that's all; and be prepared for anything."
"Are the life signs humanoid?"
"Yes, and not a species we have come across before."
"Well, that's something to go on." With that she was off again at a fast pace, but nothing that required Chakotay to do anything other than keep a regular speed. It was at times like these he was almost grateful she was so much smaller than him; if she had longer legs and walked like that he would have to jog to keep up!
Thankfully she did slow down as she approached what looked like the vessel's entrance hatch. Chakotay let her take the lead as she prised it open and slowly opened it wide enough for them to see inside.
The sight she had revealed made Kathryn's heart lurch in sympathy. Sitting in the middle of the floor was a male, apparently about the same age as they themselves were, with his arms wrapped around another of his kind – from this angle, it was impossible to say whether the second being was male or female.
As she glanced around the craft's interior a third being caught Kathryn's attention. Lying prone on the floor was another male, obviously killed upon impact. She had to fight back tears as she turned back to the other pair, who had still to acknowledge the presence of their intruders. In the softest voice she could muster, she started to speak to them.
"Don't be afraid, we're here to help you. I'm Kathryn, this is Chakotay."
At first there was no reaction, then slowly the male started to turn his head towards them, bringing his companion more fully into view as he did so – she was female.
"Are you hurt?" Kathryn continued to talk quietly but with authority in the hope that they would feel reassured and open up a little. The male replied to her.
"I am not hurt, at least not badly; but Re'ni... she has not spoken to me since the crash. I fear she is already gone."
Chakotay strode past Kathryn and started to scan the female with the medical tricorder he had retrieved from his pack. His face carefully showed no reaction as he interpreted the readings so as not to worry their new companions. Finally, he spoke.
"She is seriously injured, but I believe she will recover given time." He turned to Kathryn. "We need to get her back to the shelter."
"You have shelter?" It was the male who replied to Chakotay's comment, and Kathryn stepped in to explain.
"Yes, about two days' walk from here. It's our home."
"We were unaware that anyone lived on this planet. When others of our race visited they found no-one here."
"We've not been here very long, they probably came before we arrived."
"Right." The male then fell silent again for several minutes and Chakotay started to treat Re'ni's injuries until he spoke again. "I am Anad, I was the pilot of this vessel. Re'ni is a scientist. We are... grateful for your assistance."
"We will do anything we can. Tell me Anad, do you know if your vessel is repairable?"
"I fear not. The hull has multiple fractures as you can see, and most of our equipment has been fried. Some of it may be salvageable, but it would take days to sift through it."
"I think we should come back and do that once you are well," replied Kathryn. "Our first priority though should be to get Re'ni back to the shelter. Can you walk well enough to make the trip?"
"I believe so, though there is something I must do first. It is customary for our dead to be buried as soon as possible."
"Of course. Chakotay and I will take Re'ni outside and make a stretcher for her so that we can carry her back. Come and find us when you are ready to leave."
So Kathryn and Chakotay made their way outside with Re'ni, and Anad made his way over to the deceased form of his former colleague. Within a couple of hours they were all ready to move again, and the much slower journey back to the shelter began.
It wasn't until late in the evening over two days later that the party made it to their destination. Re'ni had woken up occasionally along the way, remaining conscious just long enough to take in fluids before blacking out once again. Once they had gotten inside Chakotay lifted her from the stretcher and carried her straight to Kathryn's bed where she was to rest until she was better.
Kathryn and Anad left early the next morning with fresh supplies to return to the fallen vessel. They planned to stay out there until they had performed a full salvage operation, whilst Chakotay remained behind to nurse Re'ni back to health. They could start to make more long-term plans when they knew more about their situation.
Slowly but surely, Re'ni started to recover. The first time she was fully awake in the shelter she cried out in fear at finding herself alone in an unfamiliar environment. Chakotay heard her shout and went to her side where he explained the situation to her in a soothing voice. It wasn't long before she relaxed, and she made rapid progress along the road to recovery.
Within a few days of her waking she was sitting out in the main part of the shelter, and the two of them spent the evenings talking as Chakotay went about his tasks. Once everything was set up for the night he would sit down and join her. They would talk about their past - where they had grown up, their families, old friends; but for some reason, neither of them talked of more recent years. Re'ni made no mention of her current pursuits, or of why she and Anad had ended up on New Earth; and Chakotay didn't talk of Voyager or the Liberty.
Kathryn hated the silence. Ever since they had left Chakotay and Re'ni back at the shelter Anad had retreated inside himself, muttering only the few words that were necessary to their tasks or meeting Kathryn's questions with one-word replies. So far, she had learnt that their new companions had come from a planet called Thysor, and that their dead colleague had been in charge of their mission. That was it. Nothing about where this Thysor was, nothing about why they had been in this region of space, nothing even about what happened when they crashed. All she could assume was that a plasma bolt struck their vessel causing them to crash to the planet below, and that was just from her knowledge of the planet's weather phenomena and her brief inspections of the damaged vessel. She decided to try another subject, to see if Anad started to open up a little. Maybe something about what they were doing that would require more than a one-word answer.
"So, have you found anything worth saving yet?"
"Only a few of our personal belongings. It seems all of the electrical equipment was damaged beyond repair when the bolt hit us."
So she had been right, thought Kathryn; she decided to follow this one up. "So it was a plasma bolt that brought you down to the planet?"
"Yes. We weren't ready for that kind of severe weather, our ship wasn't designed to be out in it."
"We weren't ready for it either when we experienced our first storm, Chakotay had to come and help me out of the forest." Kathryn thought that maybe sharing some of their experiences would get Anad to open up a little.
"So you can understand our surprise when the atmosphere changed so suddenly. There was no warning, nothing to say that we were in any danger until it was too late. Too late for us to return our vessel to space, and too late, as it turned out, for Ytew." So now at least Kathryn knew the name of the man who had died.
"Were you close to him?"
"I knew him, you might say we were friends. He was in command of our mission. I wouldn't say we were particularly close but... every death must be mourned."
"He shouldn't have died on such a routine mission. His death has no meaning, no purpose. There is nothing to tell his family to comfort them; unless we get off this planet soon, they won't even know anything is wrong for almost a year."
"Our mission was to last a year, and we have only been away for a month. No-one will consider us missing until we do not return in eleven months' time. By the looks of our ship, we won't be leaving any earlier than that."
Kathryn couldn't help but feel disappointed at this bit of information. Almost subconsciously she had been clinging to the hope that Anad's people would come looking for them, bringing with them some possibility of a cure for herself and Chakotay. Now that hope had been taken away from her.
"Maybe your communications equipment is retrievable. Even if it's not, ours should still be in full working order. If you could get a signal through to your home planet..."
"We won't be able to, we're way out of communications range by now. Re'ni and I just have to get used to the fact that we're stuck here."
"Now where have I heard that before."
"Kathryn, tell me - it does get easier, right?"
"Yes, Anad. It does. Eventually, it gets easier."
The days passed quickly until, almost two weeks after they had left, Kathryn and Anad returned from their expedition. They brought little back with them other than personal belongings and it quickly became obvious that, even though they were still unaffected by the virus that kept Kathryn and Chakotay on New Earth, Anad and Re'ni would be staying with them.
The group's thoughts turned to building a second shelter. A location was quickly picked out – Kathryn had found a reasonably sized clearing about ten minutes' walk from their own shelter; close enough for company, but far enough away that each shelter retained a sense of privacy. The shelter was to be built from logs, something similar to the ideas Chakotay had previously had for improvements to their own home. They were able to use some of their power reserves to replicate an axe with which to chop the trees down, and Chakotay volunteered to do most of the milling with his phaser. Anad would help with the construction, leaving Kathryn and Re'ni to work on the interior. Within a day of the decision being made construction was under way.
Not more than a day or two after Kathryn and Anad's return, Re'ni approached Chakotay with a question.
"Chakotay, I hope you don't mind me asking, but what happened to you and Kathryn?"
"How do you mean?"
"Well, I don't get the impression that you chose to live here. You have so much technology around the shelter that it's obvious you didn't decide to settle here to get away from it all, and quite apart from that there's something about the way you both act, more so with Kathryn, that makes me feel that this isn't where you should be. So something must have happened, and I've been wondering what that was."
"You're right, we didn't choose to be here. We served together as captain and first officer on a starship called Voyager until seven months ago."
"Voyager? What kind of ship is that?"
"It's actually a relatively small ship and not designed for what we were, what the others still are, putting it through. It has a crew compliment of just under one hundred and fifty, fifteen decks, I won't go into any more specifics but if you have any questions just ask. What's probably more important is that it's a ship a long way from home. We were pulled out to this part of the galaxy against our will and were trying to make our way home to Federation space."
"The United Federation of Planets. Kathryn's really the best person to ask about this, but put simply it's a group of planets and people who've joined together to benefit from mutual trade, defence, that kind of thing. More importantly, it's home, and it's tens of thousands of light years away from here."
"Wow...I'm sorry. So you were trying to make your way back? But how do the captain and second-in-command end up separated from the ship and left behind? Did the crew mutiny?"
Chakotay let out a chuckle at this, and rubbed his chin as he started to speak again. "No, there was no mutiny, despite what some of my crew wanted."
"Your crew? I'm sorry, somehow I'd assumed Kathryn was the captain."
"Oh; but your crew..."
"*Were* my crew, once. We weren't one ship when we were brought out here, we were two - Voyager is Kathryn's ship, always has been. I was captain of the Liberty."
By now the look on Re'ni's face was one of utter confusion. What had started off as a simple question on her part had brought forth more than she could ever have imagined, and now she was thoroughly lost. Voyager, the Federation, the Liberty, people who were once two crews but apparently now just one; and two captains, neither of whom had a ship to command any longer, and both of whom had somehow become stranded on this planet thousands of light years from home. At least, that's how she *thought* it went.
Chakotay recognised the bewilderment from his companion and decided to take a different approach. "This is going to be far easier if I just start from the beginning, and work my way through until we get to where Kathryn and I are now. It could be a long story though, are you sure you want to hear it?"
"I don't think I could *not* listen to it now, I'm intrigued as to how all this fits together."
"Okay, is there anything you need before I start?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine."
So Chakotay started to tell Re'ni the story of the Liberty and Voyager, of how they arrived in the Delta Quadrant and how they became one ship, one crew. He told her a little of the problems they had encountered in their early days, and how they got through them and became stronger. He told her of B'Elanna and Tuvok, of Harry and Tom; he told her stories of holographic doctors and friendly Delta natives; and he told her how one away mission had gone terribly wrong, how a careless accident had resulted in the infection of a fearless captain and her commander and had left them with no option but to send their crew on home without them. He told her about the hurt and guilt of a woman who was unable to remove them from this fate, and the gradual acceptance of a life that, although not chosen, was a comfortable one, and one that was filled with new discoveries and close companionship.
As Chakotay had warned Re'ni, their story took a long time to tell, and by the time he was finished darkness had fallen outside. Kathryn and Anad had yet to return from a wood gathering trip so Chakotay assumed that they would be staying out in the woods again tonight. Looking out of the window to the blackness outside his thoughts drifted to what Kathryn was doing right now - had she told Anad the story of their being on the planet? Or had they more important things to talk about; discussions over which parts could be salvaged from the torn ship, and what items were needed most urgently to allow the two newcomers to live independently of their current providers. Lost in these thoughts, Chakotay was startled when Re'ni broke the silence, launching straight into the subject that had obviously been on her mind during their silence.
"You and Kathryn weren't that close before you were stranded here, were you?"
"How did you know that?"
"Every time you mentioned her in the context of Voyager you referred to her as 'The Captain'; but as soon as your story moved on to your time on this planet she became Kathryn, almost as if she became a different person. I'm starting to think that in some ways she did, or at least that that's how you perceived it. Not consciously perhaps, but it's there all the same."
"Maybe you're right. We are closer now, that's true; but I hadn't realised I was calling her 'Captain' just now. I actually never called her by her given name until we were left here; it just wasn't done. She was my superior and I acted accordingly."
"Even though you were in love with her?"
Chakotay didn't have a reply for that. He didn't remember telling this woman about his feelings for Kathryn, yet here she was confronting him about it as though it were plain for all the world to see. Maybe it was. Maybe he'd been kidding himself to think otherwise. Maybe it had been obvious to Kathryn all this time, angry warrior legend or not.
So why hadn't he seen the same in her?
"I'm sorry," Re'ni's voice cut into his thoughts. "That was too forward of me. We've only known each other five minutes and already I'm sticking my nose into your personal business."
"No, it's okay, you just knocked me a little off balance that's all."
"I can see that. If you don't want to talk about it, we'll drop the subject right now."
"No, it's alright. It actually makes a change to speak about it, rather than just letting it run through my own head."
"So you and Kathryn have never spoken about this?"
"No. I did tell her how I felt once, all wrapped up in a story, but we never spoke of it again."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Why should you? If she doesn't feel the same way, the safest thing for her to do is ignore it all together. That way she can pretend that the friendship we both enjoy is all either of us wants."
"I don't think that's what she's doing; and I don't believe that's all she wants."
Chakotay went quiet again, before eventually speaking as he got up and walked away."Actually, if you don't mind, I think I would rather not talk about this. I'm going to bed."
"Okay, goodnight," Re'ni replied, to Chakotay's retreating back.
The next day Re'ni approached Chakotay again. He was outside milling wood for the cabin, and he laid his tools down carefully whilst he listened to what Re'ni had to say.
"I have a suggestion. We're in the same boat, you and I. I didn't tell you this last night, but I've been in love with Anad for years, there's no one else I would rather have gotten stuck on this planet with. Like Kathryn though, he has never been ready to move our relationship further."
"So what's your suggestion?"
"I was thinking last night... If we pretended to start a relationship with each other, maybe they would realise what they were losing and finally see that they do feel the same way, and that they should be with us."
"As I said last night, I'm not so sure Kathryn does feel the same way."
"She does. From what I've seen, she'd be a fool not to."
Chakotay lowered his head in embarrassment briefly before continuing their conversation.
"Okay, so if I agree to this, what do we do?"
"Nothing too quickly, that's the most important thing. This has to look natural; it's definitely a long-term plan. For at least the first month we have to appear to be nothing more than friends. Then, slowly, we act as though we're more than that. Nothing overt - just held hands here, hugs there, the appearance of spending a lot of time together. We don't even have to actually do that part; if we set off into the woods together we can split up once we're away from the others. It just has to look right."
"I think I'm with you so far."
"Of course, if either of us is approached by the others, if either one of them admits their feelings to us, the whole thing is off straight away."
"Crazy as this sounds, I think it may work. There's just one thing."
"I hope I can talk Kathryn around if Anad comes to you first!"
Chakotay and Re'ni shared a laugh, as both were well aware that Kathryn had the ability to tear Chakotay to shreds if she decided that he had betrayed her in some way.
"So are you in?" Re'ni's voice was full of hope, in anticipation of Chakotay's positive answer.
"I'm in. On one condition."
"The moment either of us becomes uncomfortable with this, we drop it straight away."
Re'ni wrapped Chakotay up in a bear hug to seal the deal, and then left him to his milling.
A month passed, and Kathryn watched as Chakotay and Re'ni grew closer while Anad grew more distant from them all by the day. Somewhere along the line the dynamics of the group had started to change, and whilst Kathryn was sure that she and Chakotay would always remain the best of friends she had begun to doubt that he still wished for more between them. He seemed to have found a more willing recipient for his naturally caring nature, and Kathryn was happy for him. She was. She was sure that, before many more weeks had passed, Chakotay and Re'ni would be a couple.
Happy for them. Who was she trying to kid? The worst part of it all was that she could see them being very good together. In many ways Re'ni was similar to Kathryn herself; she was a scientist, and by the sounds of it very distinguished in her field; she enjoyed reading, painting, and playing a game that sounded suspiciously like pool. Hell, she had even taken a liking to coffee.
However, unlike Kathryn, Re'ni had never had very high ambitions. She had always been happy to let other people get on with the organisation of the work, being in charge had never held any appeal for her. All she wanted to do was explore new places, learn as much about them as she could, and then report back to her colleagues with the knowledge that she had done some good for her people. Glory, recognition, they didn't mean a thing. Her personal happiness meant more to her, and that meant friends, family, and companionship. Things that Kathryn knew Chakotay could provide for her, that he wanted for himself as well.
Things Kathryn hadn't been ready for. Things that command had always gotten in the way of.
That had never been a problem for Re'ni.
With the second shelter at last completed, Kathryn and Chakotay sat alone together for the first time in what felt like months. In reality, it had been about eight weeks; eight weeks of sharing their cramped living space with another two beings; eight weeks in which Kathryn had had to share her bedroom, the one place that was truly her own, with Re'ni.
Damn, she was really starting to sound like she didn’t like the woman. That wasn't true. The truth was, Kathryn thought that she and Re'ni could quite easily become good friends. She had just grown tired of having no time to herself; and she had also missed the evenings that she and Chakotay had shared together before their lives on New Earth had been turned upside down.
Tonight could have been lifted straight from their first few weeks on the planet. Kathryn was sitting in the corner sketching whilst Chakotay was sitting at his desk working on a sand painting. An easy banter flowed between them as they worked.
"Chakotay, when you were at the academy, did you ever spend any time with Mr. Boothby?"
"Boothby? A little, I think he must have spoken to every student on campus once or twice. Why?"
"It's nothing really. I found a flower today that reminded me so much of the roses he used to grow. He used to give me some when they were ready for picking, so that I could put them in my room."
"I know why that was – sucking up to the Admiral's daughter."
"He was not!" Kathryn laughed despite herself. "He would have given those flowers to anyone who showed an appreciation for them."
"Ah, so it was the little farm girl in you that appealed to him."
"If you weren't out of my reach I'd wallop you for that."
"What, are your arms too short to reach me from there?"
And so the teasing conversation continued. Kathryn was in a playful mood, forgetting that there was anyone else on the planet at all. For just one evening it was just her and Chakotay, and she was happy.
Five Months Later...
Life on New Earth had settled into some kind of routine in the time since Anad and Re'ni moved into their new home.
Anad had remained slightly aloof from both Kathryn and Chakotay, only really opening up when all four of them were together. They could only assume that he was completely different when the two Thysorians were on their own. Re'ni on the other had become a good friend to them all. Despite her ongoing ruse with Chakotay she had still managed to strike up a close friendship with Kathryn, and the constant pretence was starting to get to her; she hated the idea that she was hurting her friend.
However, the very fact that she was hurting had given them some indication that their plan was working. Particularly over the last few weeks, Kathryn had seemed to do all she could to spend time alone with Chakotay. She would prepare picnics for them and drag him out for a walk in the woods, or even send Re'ni out for something she said Chakotay would like just to get her out of the way for the day. Sometimes she just did things subconsciously, other times it was a precise plan that had been rumbling around in her head for days. Either way, Chakotay wasn’t complaining. He was finally starting to believe that it wouldn't be long before he and Kathryn were finally together.
One afternoon Anad approached Kathryn with something on his mind, walking up to where she was sitting so quietly that when he called her name she visibly jumped with the shock.
"There's something I wanted to talk to you about, I hope you don't mind me interrupting."
"Of course not! What is it?"
"It's about Re'ni and Chakotay."
"Oh." Kathryn's face fell at the mention of a subject she was never too eager to discuss.
"It's not what you're thinking. In fact, I'm willing to bet it never has been."
Now Anad had Kathryn's full attention. "What do you mean by that?"
"Kathryn, did Chakotay ever indicate to you that he wanted more from your relationship?"
"I used to think so, but lately... Well, lately, things just haven't been the same as they used to be."
"They could be like that again."
"How? He's with Re'ni now."
"Which is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about - he's not."
"Not with Re'ni. They're not together, not a couple."
"You've lost me now. Do you want to start from the beginning?"
"They've been putting all of this on, it's been one big con."
"Why would they want to do that?"
"Well, how has it made you feel?"
"Do you want the easy answer, or the one scattered with more profanities than I'd really care for you to hear?"
"If it's all the same, I think I prefer the easy answer from those two options."
"Fine. It's made me feel damned miserable; but then, I think you knew that."
"Of course I did, I've been feeling the same way. I've been in love with Re'ni for years, I just never thought it was the right time to start anything. She's always been ready to take our relationship further, she was just waiting for me to give the word."
"I thought it might."
"I think I'm starting to see what you're saying. They've been pretending to be together to make us realise that we've waited too long; there's no reason to wait anymore. They want us to see that we should be together: you with Re'ni, me with Chakotay."
"Exactly. I heard them talking this morning; they were discussing how they thought their plan was working. I thought... I thought maybe we should let them know, together... that we know."
"What did you have in mind?"
"I don't know. Confront them maybe; let them know that we know what they were doing, and that it worked. Tell them that we don't want them to keep up this pretence any longer."
"Oh no, I have a far better idea than that. They are *not* going to get away with this that lightly."
Anad said nothing, not sure he really liked the sound of what Kathryn was saying. He hadn't learned much about her since he and Re'ni had arrived on New Earth, but two things he had learned about Kathryn Janeway were that she had a keen mind, and that she never liked people to get one up on her. So far, Chakotay and Re'ni had succeeded in doing that with style; and sure enough, Kathryn had a plan to get even with the conspirators.
"Anad, are you up for a little play-acting of our own?"
"I think we should give them a little taste of their own medicine, make them think their little plan has backfired somewhat. We could act as though all they've succeeded in doing is throwing *us* together."
"You and me?"
"Together?" Anad was sounding very doubtful.
"You don't have to say it quite like that. It doesn't have to be for long, just long enough to get them worried. They'll probably work out soon enough what we've been up to anyway, this just gives us a chance to go down fighting."
"What did you have in mind? No offence, but I'm hoping you don't want us to be... well... *too* friendly in front of them."
"I'm not going to make you do anything you're not comfortable with. All it should take is a few hugs, lingering glances, things like that. I've always been quite a... tactile person, so it really shouldn't be too hard, so long as we're seen spending time with each other."
"And you think this will fool them?"
"Yes, I do. I also think it's going to be fun. So what do you say, are you in?"
"I suppose so."
"Great! Just take your lead from me, we'll do great. One more thing though."
"Just for this little exercise, call me Kath."
"Chakotay knows that Mark, my ex-fiancé, used to call me that. It should shake him up nicely, and serve him right too."
"Kathryn, are you sure? This play-acting is one thing, but that could really start to hurt him."
"Trust me, I'm sure. It won't matter to him one bit once all this sorts itself out. Who knows, maybe I'll even let *him* call me Kath once all this is over!"
"Maybe he'll find something different to call you, something that doesn't reek of past lovers."
"Maybe he will, we'll just have to wait and see." With those words Kathryn strode back towards the shelter, leaving Anad trailing in her wake.
()()()That night the four of them gathered in the newer of the two shelters, and to Chakotay's surprise Anad beat him to the position next to Kathryn on the sofa. He continued to stare in amazement as Anad put his arm around her and she curled up into his embrace.
Kathryn couldn't help but notice the expression on Chakotay's face, and she silently thanked Anad for playing his part better than she had expected. She watched Chakotay sit in the chair opposite to hers and stare down into his drink.
Re'ni was seated across from Anad with a completely unreadable expression on her face. Kathryn couldn't work out whether she was lost in thought or just using all of her energy up on looking unaffected, but she was far from responsive as the conversation was tossed around between them all throughout the evening.
Anad continued to play his part to perfection, always making sure Kathryn's coffee cup was full and always returning to his place by her side once he had finished tending to her needs. Kathryn concentrated on making sure she acted naturally. She used gestures that were familiar to her with people she knew well, and found that she could play her role without thinking after no more than ten minutes. The only part she was finding hard was not paying too much attention to Chakotay.
The time passed quickly for some, slowly for others, depending on whether they were revelling in a plan that seemed to be working or brooding over an idea gone dreadfully wrong. Not long before midnight Kathryn and Chakotay agreed it was time for them to get moving, and the group rose to say their goodbyes. Perhaps predictably for the tone of the evening, Kathryn and Anad were the last to separate, making sure they put on a show as they did so.
"Goodnight Kath." Anad's tone was almost silky smooth, nothing like the voice Chakotay was used to hearing emerging from his lips.
"Night, Anad," replied Kathryn, as she laid a hand on his chest in a gesture Chakotay was very familiar with.
She and Chakotay headed back to their own home in silence.
As it turned out, Kathryn and Anad didn't have to keep up their act for more than one night. Re'ni had seen straight through their act and confronted Anad on it as soon as the others were out of hearing range. He told her everything without putting up any resistance at all, and before either of them knew it they were curled up together on the sofa sharing their first sweet kisses.
Things went slightly differently at the other shelter. No sooner had Chakotay closed the door behind him than he turned to Kathryn with a questioning look on his face and said,
"He called you 'Kath'. More than that, the two of you spent the entire night on that sofa wrapped up in each other, but you've never seemed that close before. What's going on, Kathryn?"
"I'd have thought that was fairly obvious."
"I'm hoping it's not."
"Why not?" This was it. Kathryn had laid the question out for him, all he had to do was give her an honest answer and they could finally stop pretending. It all depended on him.
He took far too long to answer. Kathryn was just turning away towards her bed, tears brimming in her eyes, when she heard a quiet voice behind her.
"Because I love you."
Kathryn kept her back towards him as she answered, though her tears were rapidly turning into an all-consuming grin.
"So what was all that with Re'ni?" Of course, she knew damned well what it was, but she wasn't letting him get away with it that easily.
"It was her idea. She realised that if we worked together we might be able to make you and Anad realise what you were missing by not acting on your feelings. I wasn't convinced it would work, I didn't believe that you even *had* those kinds of feelings for me; but Re'ni talked me into it. I'm hoping that your display tonight was the two of you getting your own back. I'm hoping that you realised what we were doing and wanted to give us a taste of our own medicine before telling us that you felt the same way we did. I'm hoping that I haven't just shot myself in the foot and lost the best thing that ever happened to me."
Kathryn couldn't stand it any longer; she whirled around to face him and ran into his arms. A startled Chakotay didn't take too long to respond, and he gathered her up into an embrace so tight she had trouble breathing. Slowly he loosened his grip and started to run his fingers through her long hair, as she started to caress his back through his clothes. When she was free enough to move that far, Kathryn reached up to pull Chakotay's mouth to hers for their first kiss. Slow, but full of their feelings for each other, the kiss was more than either of them had ever expected. When the need for air became too much the kiss ended and they returned to their previous embrace. Chakotay leant down and kissed the top of Kathryn's head, whispering four important words to his best friend who was also so much more.
"I love you, Kathryn."
"I love you, Chakotay," she replied, and for the first time in a months Kathryn felt as though everything was going to be okay.
Hidden behind the wooden panelling - a recent addition to Kathryn and Chakotay's New Earth home – a little blue light started to flash, and a beeping sound emanated from the speaker beside it. At first it was so quiet that the residents of the house, currently curled up together in the sunlight outside, were blissfully unaware that anything unusual was happening. But gradually, the beeping grew louder, and louder, and louder still, until it disturbed the tranquil atmosphere outside.
"You hear that?" asked Kathryn.
Chakotay got up and headed into the shelter, leaving Kathryn to hurry after him. Once inside he made his way over to the wall where the communications equipment was located and started to remove some of the panelling, and the beeping became louder still. Her interest piqued, Kathryn pushed her way in to see what was happening. Studying the readings on the screen, she suddenly let out a stifled gasp.
"That's a Federation signal!" Literally pushing Chakotay right out of the way she started to push buttons frantically. "And not just any Federation signal – it's Voyager!"
Chakotay wasn't about to let her do all of this on her own. Working his way back into view of the console but still allowing Kathryn to do her work, Chakotay held his breath as he waited for more news. If Voyager was trying to contact them again...
"Damn. Why haven't we done regular systems checks on all of this? If we're to get any kind of message through I'm going to have to bypass this relay and..."
"Kathryn, don't tell me what you're doing, just do it. You know you'll get it done faster that way."
With a small acknowledgement Kathryn continued to do exactly that, and barely a minute or two later Chakotay was startled by her loud cry.
"Great! Now, can we receive their message?"
"Should be able to, I'll get it onscreen now."
True to her word, with a few taps here and there an image popped onto the tiny screen. Sure enough, the transmission was a recorded message from Tuvok on Voyager. Kathryn glanced back at Chakotay as the message started to play, and grasped his hand tightly in hers.
*Captain, we have news. A little over a month ago we acquired technology that would allow us to maintain speeds equivalent to those attained with a Borg transwarp conduit. Also, in the time since we last spoke the Doctor has been able to develop an antidote to the virus that has kept you on the planet where we left you. We are therefore currently on our way back to your position to retrieve you, assuming you wish to leave. We look forward to meeting with you again before the end of the month. Tuvok out.*
Kathryn was the first to react.
The end of the month?! But that's..."
"We have to go and tell Anad and Re'ni."
"You're right, they deserve to know about this straight away. They need to know what to expect when the others arrive. Kathryn, you have no idea how much I've been praying for this to happen."
"You? I thought you'd been happy here."
"I have, in as far as my own needs are concerned; but you're a different story. I know you've said you're happy here, and I even think you might believe it, but you'll never be truly content until you're back up among the stars. Having no ship to command has had more of an effect on you than I think you'd care to admit. Remember the day that the others crashed down here?"
"Watching you preparing to go and find their ship was like a revelation, it was as though you came back to life. That one goal put so much more enthusiasm into your whole being that it made me feel I would do anything to see you back on Voyager, or any ship really, as long as you regained your captaincy."
"I was that different?"
"Oh yes. It wasn't until then that I finally understood why you found it so hard to accept life here. Anyway, what are we doing talking about this now? We have to go talk to the others."
"You're right, we can talk about this anytime."
So they walked together out of their shelter and started the ten-minute walk that would take them to the planet's only other building. They made the journey in silence, each of them lost in thoughts about what Voyager's return could mean.
When they reached the door to their friends' shelter they were not surprised to find the door wide open and the sound of Re'ni's singing voice drifting out to great them. Ever since she and Anad had finally become a couple she had barely stopped singing, and none of the others were complaining; she had the most beautiful singing voice they had ever heard. However, as soon as she heard Kathryn's quiet knock on the door the singing ceased and she beckoned her visitors in.
"Kathryn, Chakotay, what a pleasant surprise! We weren't expecting to see you for a few days, not after that last conversation you and I had, Kathryn."
Chakotay threw a questioning glance towards her at that remark, but Kathryn's only response was to blush. That said a lot in itself. She covered it by launching into the subject that had brought them over.
"Re'ni, we have something we need to talk to you about. Is Anad around?"
"He should be just around the back, cutting wood or something. He has some model he wants to build, don't ask me what it is."
"Okay, I'll go round and get him," Chakotay replied, and he went back out of the door through which they had just entered.
Moments later he reappeared with Anad and Kathryn was able to get on with explaining things to their friends.
"Chakotay and I just received a transmission. From Voyager." She paused here for a second or two to let them take this information in. "They've acquired new technology which has allowed them to travel at a much faster pace, as well as a cure which will allow Chakotay and I to leave New Earth. They're on their way back for us as we speak."
"You're leaving?" Re'ni seemed shattered by the news.
"Yes, we are. We're being given the chance to return to our families, and we have to take it."
"Of course you do."
"We do have something to ask you both though."
"What is it?"
"Would you like Voyager to return you to Thysor?"
"Your ship would do that for us?
"Of course it would, I'm the captain! At least, I hope I soon will be again."
"But our home is in the opposite direction to yours."
"By the sound of it, it won't take much time out of our journey to make the detour. Besides, we know what it's like to want to go home. We'll help in any way we can."
"Thank you Kathryn, Chakotay. I'm sure you understand what this means to us. There is only one thing I shall miss after leaving this place."
"What's that?" Chakotay spoke up for the first time.
"The two of you. I shall miss our friendship."
"So will we, Re'ni, so will we."
And that was how it happened. Voyager arrived the very next day, and once the doctor was happy that the viral antidote had worked Kathryn and Chakotay were beamed up to the ship for a tearful reunion with the rest of the crew.
It took almost a week to pack the personal belongings of both couples and leave New Earth as clear as possible. As Voyager left orbit Kathryn, Chakotay, Anad and Re'ni gathered in the ready room, each man with his arms around his partner, quietly saying goodbye to the planet that had provided for them for all that time.
Kathryn settled back into her command with ease and their friends were amazed by the transformation. To Chakotay's relief, she didn't even mention the possibility of their relationship having to change now that they were operating back in the command structure. They spent most of their off-duty time together; early evenings were spent with friends in the mess hall or on the holodeck before retiring to Kathryn's quarters for the night.
They arrived at Thysor sooner than many onboard wished for, and the departure of Anad and Re'ni was quicker still. The four New Earth residents made their way into the transporter room soon after breakfast on the day after their arrival at the planet. Kathryn quickly dismissed the Ensign manning the transporter controls, preferring it to be just the four of them as they said goodbye. Promises were made never to forget their time together; Re'ni even pledged to call her first daughter Kathryn – an honour that by Thysorian tradition went to the mother's best friend. Kathryn operated the transporter controls through her tears, and clung to Chakotay for the rest of the day.
Once Voyager broke orbit from Thysor life onboard settled to a more usual routine. Tom informed them at their next briefing that it should take another ten years at top speed to reach Earth. Kathryn could barely believe it; not long ago she had been on New Earth having accepted that she would never see her family again, and now she could be back home in enough time to build a decent life there for herself and Chakotay.
Now that they had more time to take in what had happened whilst they were away the command couple were amazed at how much had changed. Harry Kim had matured into a fine officer and was currently seeing a crewman from stellar cartography. Tom and B'Elanna were still dancing around each other – not much had changed there – but it seemed the crew had high hopes that something would happen soon. At any rate, Tom had gained a far greater respect from both halves of the crew since acting as Tuvok's first officer.
Kes and Neelix, now here was the thing that surprised Chakotay the most; Kes and Neelix had split up. Kathryn didn't seem to be quite so surprised by this but no one ever asked her why.
Throughout the rest of the ship similar changes had taken place, and it became clear to Kathryn and Chakotay that after more than a year away from the ship they had a lot of catching up to do.
But in the end, all that really mattered was that they would do it together.
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