Disclaimer: The Star Trek characters and the Star Trek universe are the property of Paramount Pictures. "Convergence" was written solely by Linda Bindner as fan fiction and may not be reprinted (on paper or electronically) or sold without permission of the author.


Convergence

By Linda Bindner

Well, now what?

Kathryn Janeway stared distractedly at the picture on her computer monitor, barely registering it as other, more insistent images whirled and bounced inside her brain. The fact that she even had this particular picture called up, after not looking at it for months, only to again disregard it was testimony to her present state of upheaval. It was as if that act of recalling it, then ignoring it, indicated her arrival at some sort of crossroads, and she was wrestling with herself, trying to come to a conclusion, any conclusion. But try as she might, she couldn't erase the picture in her mind to replace it with the picture on her monitor. So she stared at that portrait of herself, her dog, and her past lover and pondered her options. Kathryn imagined she might go cross-eyed soon with all that thinking.

Perhaps she was taking this from the wrong angle, she mused. Maybe the situation didn't require a decision from her at all. Perhaps all she needed to do was relax, and let go at last. After all, there was suddenly a great deal to look forward to. She didn't want to miss a chance to embrace a new future simply because she felt the need to sit for hours in her ready room and stare at a picture. An opportunity had appeared, and the sense of excitement that lay beyond beckoned with promises of adventure and fulfillment that had been denied her for a long time. It was positively seductive. At the moment, she wanted to be seduced. And yet....

Kathryn again replayed the scene that had brought about this new opportunity, dredging up as much detail as her brain could muster.

Commander Chakotay had kissed her.

She had kissed Chakotay.

Actually, it wasn't important who had initiated the event, only that it had happened. Now, looking back, she recognized a series of events leading up to that moment. It certainly wasn't the first time since their rescue from New Earth that they chose to spend some free time together. Even she had to admit that it was becoming quite rare not to find them together after a duty shift. At first they had simply reviewed the day's happenings over a meal or a quiet drink in the mess hall. Then it subtly gravitated towards less work and more talk. Their working partnership had altered somehow, broadening to include strolls down the corridors, lengthy discussions on a plethora of subjects both serious and inane, lazy hours spent pursuing separate hobbies while still in each other's company. The sense of companionship that inevitably ensued was.... Kathryn searched for the correct word, and came up only with phrases that she felt were grossly inadequate in describing this new sensation. Nice worked well enough, but at the same time it didn't work at all.

Kathryn sighed deeply, thoroughly enjoying the path her thoughts had turned down. Her contemplation naturally led to that culminating moment, the cause of her useless staring. Finally she gave up all pretense of looking at the picture and happily indulged her thoughts. With her chin propped comfortably in her hand, she gazed into the empty room as she remembered. The memory played pleasantly in the quietness, unfolding slowly. Unconsciously she began to smile.

They'd been playing pool at Sandreen's, Lieutenant Paris' slinky holodeck creation. It wasn't their first use of that particular diversion; the commander played a mean game of pool, and was always a challenging opponent. But that night they'd played for fun, simply enjoying the relaxation in the unoccupied cantina. She had made some teasing remark about his tattoo cutting down on his peripheral vision, explaining his abysmal shots for the two previous games, and he had made an equally personal retort concerning her hair. Then she had purposefully smacked him with her stick as she approached the table for a turn. "Move aside, Chakotay, and let a real player take over," she had said, and was rewarded with an answering smack that destroyed her shot, and they both laughed. She playfully shoved him. He moved closer and wagged a finger mockingly in her face. Then, still laughing and joking so that they didn't realize what was happening, his arms were suddenly around her, her arms curled around him, and they had kissed.

It wasn't the kiss that shocked her so much, but the naturalness and ease with which it had happened. One minute they were teasing like cadets at the Academy, the next they had slipped into each others' arms as if they'd been doing it for years. Her sense of duty hadn't interfered. His attempts at keeping a safe distance from her had abandoned him. There was no guilt, no thoughts of "what will the crew think?," no inhibitions at all. Nothing but the soft sweetness of shared affection.

It was, however, extremely fortunate that nobody chose that moment to walk in.

Kathryn blinked and sighed, a ridiculous smile creasing her face as she continued to stare. If she thought too far beyond that scene, her emotions tended towards increased discord, so she chose to dwell in slow motion, putting off any logical thoughts or true decisions.

Then the door chime sounded, harshly interrupting her reverie. She sat back with a jerk, and managed to compose her features to a more serious expression before she called, "Come in."

Commander Chakotay calmly walked through her door and strolled across the expanse of carpet to her desk. Speak of the devil, she thought.

"The quarterly departmental reports, Captain," he said, and handed her several data padds.

The entire action was so routine that she had to blink again to reorient her brain into a proper command mode. For some reason, she hadn't expected their next encounter to deal with anything so mundane as departmental reports. In return, it surprised her that she would discard her duties so readily just because of one kiss. For a moment she faltered on the threshold of that new opportunity, doubts assailing her, thinking that perhaps going forward wasn't such a good idea after all.

Kathryn stared stupidly at the data padds in her hand.

Chakotay grinned mischievously at her discomfort. Then he noticed the picture displayed on her computer monitor, and his grin slowly dissolved into an expression of curiosity.

"Has Ensign Saunders settled into the research department yet?" she asked suddenly.

Maybe she wasn't staring so stupidly at those padds after all. "Yes," he answered, "finally. She seems to have overcome her fear of Lieutenant Firestone in particular and Andoraans in general. I think that transfer is going to work out fine. Is this Mark?" He pointed at the monitor.

Kathryn's head jerked up again. Damn. What was she thinking? Was she so out of control that she couldn't even remember to blank out her personal effects from the computer screen? Then again, Mark was hardly a secret from anybody on Voyager. She had certainly talked about him enough in the beginning.

She sighed softly. Was life supposed to be this confusing, she asked herself.

Well. No point in skirting the subject any longer. Just jump right in, Kathryn advised. She lifted her eyes and looked squarely at him for the first time since he'd entered her ready room. "Yes. I'm surprised that you haven't seen his picture before."

Chakotay gave her a lopsided grin as he seated himself on the edge of her desk for a better look at the picture. "I knew you had a few displayed when we started from the array, but I didn't want to pry into anything too personal." He glanced at her wryly. "We didn't exactly hit it off at first."

She answered him with an equally wry grin. "No, I don't suppose we did," she agreed.

"Then you put the pictures away." He shrugged. "I decided there was no point in dredging up old memories by asking you about him."

"I appreciate that."

"I thought you might." He laughed then, a soft, low, comfortable chuckle. "Tell me about him."

"You want to hear about Mark?" Her surprise couldn't have been greater if he'd requested that she jump through the airlock on deck twelve.

"And the dog. But I'll take Mark first. We can save the best for last."

Kathryn laughed. She simply couldn't help herself. "Very well," she said finally and leaned back in her chair. "When I left, he was a philosopher for the University of Canada. There's a good chance he still is. He had a tenured position with a very promising promotional award coming his way in the near future. I think-"

Chakotay interrupted, "Did he like dogs?"

Kathryn was taken aback by his intrusion, but she considered. She had never been completely sure if Mark liked her dogs because he liked dogs in general or if he tolerated them for her sake specifically. She still wasn't sure. "He's always been a simple man, who likes his carpets free of dog hair," she said. "But he certainly doesn't dislike them, that I know of."

"Good," the commander said enigmatically, maybe even a touch self-consciously.

She eyed him cautiously. Kathryn had never known her first officer to hedge before, but she was surely witnessing it now. A part of her was gratified to know that he was as insecure about this new development as she was. However, that didn't exactly help them move into any productive discussions on the subject.

She heaved another sigh and leaned forward in her chair. "I had a wonderful relationship with him, Chakotay," she imparted, suddenly serious and willing to divulge the information she knew he was waiting for, but was too polite to ask about. "We had fun. We shared... many extraordinary experiences. I had known him most of my life, and we were comfortable together, perfectly compatible despite our career differences." She thoughtfully rubbed her chin, remembering, and admitted, "I was very happy."

Chakotay sat silent for a moment, absorbing her words. He studied her, taking in her calm and trusting expression. Yet he didn't miss the sadness in her eyes. "Thank you for telling me," he said. His eyes smiled softly, and he said the words as if she'd just given him something precious.

His reaction gave her the courage to do a little probing of her own. "And you?" she asked carefully, navigating cautiously through this unknown territory of her first officer's personal life. Trying to keep the inquiry lighthearted, she continued teasingly, "I'm not going to divulge my life's darkest secrets if I don't get a few of yours in return." As an afterthought, she cleared her monitor and shut down the computer. With the picture gone, there were no more distractions from the past to cloud the issue of the present. She suddenly found herself overwhelmingly curious about him.

Chakotay crossed his arms where he still sat on the edge of her desk. "Deep, dark secrets? You might be disappointed."

"I doubt it. Come on, Chakotay," she needled. "There must have been somebody at one time or another, even if I've never seen the pictures spread all over the ship."

He smiled at that, but remained quiet, considering her question. At last he said, "No, I can't think of anything dark and juicy. Nothing secret. You know about Seska - everybody knows about that." He ended with a note of irony, still embarrassed by his connections to the manipulative Cardassian. He paused to study his black boots that peeked out from his uniform. Yet he refused to brood too long. He went on to admit, "I guess you could call Cassondran a deep dark secret, but I'm not sure I would go that far."

Kathryn leaned forward a bit more. She'd never heard this before. "Cassondran? Who's that?"

Chakotay's ears reddened slightly, and a decidedly pleased grin replaced his previous discomfort. The expression brought to her mind a distinct image of Tom Paris. She wasn't sure she liked that comparison. He continued to look down, thinking. "She was my astrophysics tutor. She was... pretty amazing."

"At more than just astrophysics," Kathryn guessed, judging by the increasingly wide grin on his face.

"You might say that!"

"So, what happened?"

"You want details?"

"No, thank you. The abbreviated version will do for now."

"She graduated." Chakotay shrugged. "The last I heard, she was the head of the science department on the McKinnley. There's a good chance she still is." Kathryn sent him a look of sour amusement at his choice of words. "But she taught me a lot."

"Apparently."

"I was a first year cadet; I had a lot to learn," he pointed out in mild defense at her tone. Then he sobered. "She left after my first year. It wasn't enough time for me to forget the reason why I had joined the Academy. After that, I was too busy being unpleasant to get very close to anybody else."

"Ah," she nodded, remembering. "The angry warrior."

He smiled, that lovely expression of his that instantly eased the unhappiness he was obviously recalling. "Yes." His posture began to relax before she had even acknowledged how tense he'd become.

But as interested as Kathryn was in Chakotay's past experiences, relationships or otherwise, at the moment she was more interested in what that last reference brought to mind. Here it was, the opening they had both been waiting for since he had entered her ready room. She could either wait to see if he would bring up the topic, bring it up herself, or let her fear of becoming too vulnerable rule her emotions and ignore the opportunity altogether.

When several seconds passed without a word from either of them, she decided to act. Kathryn Janeway hadn't risen to the rank of captain by refusing to take chances. Stealing herself against a sudden, unfamiliar rush of panic that churned her stomach, she rose deliberately and came around the end of her desk. Even she was impressed by the calmness in her voice when she turned to him and said, "Chakotay, let's talk."

He knew exactly what she meant. "All right," he agreed, outwardly calm as well.

But despite her demeanor, she felt a great need for something to do with her hands before she could begin a discussion so serious and life altering. Coffee. She wanted a cup of coffee. "Would you like some coffee?" she inquired.

He hesitated, a bit thrown by the sudden interruption. "Um - are you buying?"

She moved towards her replicator. "It's my ready room," she said.

"Then yes, coffee would be nice."

She ordered a cup for him, then a Klingon blend for herself. She wanted something with a little kick to keep her mind clear and focused in this conversation. After the first jolting sip, she wondered if her mind might not be focused far longer than good judgment dictated.

Chakotay joined her and reached for his cup. He pretended not to notice the slight shake of her hand, choosing to attribute it to her choice of coffee. "That blend is B'Elanna's suggestion, isn't it?"

Kathryn nodded. "I might even live to tell about it. I'll let you know in a minute." She sat down on the couch, took another drink, crossed her legs in a show of unconcern, and contemplated getting sick to her stomach. Stop stalling, she ordered herself. With her cup of the lethal beverage resting somewhat squarely on her knee, she began.

"What should we do about this?" she unceremoniously blurted. Oh, that was smooth, she chided herself. Hardly an auspicious opening.

Chakotay gulped on his drink. "Do about what?" For a brief moment he thought she'd changed her mind and wanted to talk about the advantages of Klingon coffee.

Kathryn took a deep breath and forced her voice to remain calm and her thoughts to become coherent. "About us," she continued softly.

He paused. "Define parameters?" Chakotay hazarded.

She sent a sharp look in his direction before she realized that he was teasing her, subtly, but he was definitely teasing. "Don't tempt me," she responded dryly, then sighed and continued. "I've never purposefully discussed anything like this before."

"Me neither," he admitted helpfully from his perch on the railing that divided the lounge from the captain's desk. "Usually these things just happen, and it doesn't affect more than the two involved."

She agreed with that statement. After all, there was more at stake in this proposed relationship than just the two of them, no matter how nice it might be. "Then you agree that any decisions we come to will have some kind of consequence for the crew?"

Chakotay let a breath rush out before he said, "I'm not sure the... ah... well-being of the crew should play a part in our considerations."

She shook her head. "As captain and first officer of this ship, I don't see how we can avoid that issue." She heard the stubbornness begin to creep into her tone, and she settled herself firmly against the couch, irrationally prepared to argue.

"Wait." He straightened to turn a quick circle, his fingers rubbing his chin. When he spoke again, he chose his words with care. "I know how you value your sense of responsibility for the crew; I've always admired that about you. But at the same time, you're hiding behind them."

"Excuse me?"

"They're your wall of safety. As long as you continue to put their needs first...." He stopped, noticing the set to her jaw, her desire to negate his every word. Then he laughed, a sudden change in attitude that took her completely off guard. "Listen to us. We can't even talk about this... about us... without bringing up the rest of the ship."

She cocked an eyebrow, unable to dispute his observation, or its accuracy. She had the unpleasant inkling that he knew exactly what he was talking about. Did she really hide behind the crew? It was a new notion to think about. Later. She laughed lightly and gave a slight shake of her head. "You might be right. Maybe we should invite all one hundred fifty of them in to listen. We could take a vote," she suggested, able to joke now that the tension of beginning this discussion was released. This was harder to do than she had expected.

"Next time," Chakotay promised with a smile. He took a sip of coffee, then set the cup down. "I guess," he started again, slowly, contemplating, "we need to ask ourselves what we want."

Kathryn was silent as she set down her own coffee cup and pondered that question. What did she want? Was she prepared to open herself to a relationship with Chakotay, accepting both the good and the bad of again sharing her life with another person? It wasn't the first time she had thought of this since their voyage began. She couldn't deny that after all this time Mark and the Alpha Quadrant felt very far away, and the concept of home had long since grown dim. As to Chakotay... she wouldn't mind kissing him once again. Maybe even more than just once. That entire idea was downright pleasant, she thought. But as always, there was an amount of hesitation. She had frequently wavered between the two sides, racking up pros and cons until her head swam. Her logic was as seductive as her emotions.

Yet, no matter what logic prescribed, if she was honest with herself, she knew what she wanted. However, she wasn't sure she had the courage to reach out for it.

She glanced at him sidelong from the corners of her eyes. "What do you think?" she asked rather than revealing her own thoughts.

"Kathryn, you're hiding again."

"I'm not hiding, I'm evading. Humor me."

Chakotay strolled to the couch and slapped her leg in friendly aggravation before taking a seat a few feet away. He turned to look at her. "Let me tell you something."

"Is this going to be another one of your stories?" she interrupted.

With a smile and a shake of his head, he promised, "No, no stories, no ancient legends, no new legends. Just... just me." He paused to clear his throat, then despite his words, cocked his head in his typical storytelling pose. "When we started back to the Alpha Quadrant, I knew that it might take some time for the crew to form bonds with each other. We were all hanging on to the hope that we would get home. Even I wanted to see Earth again. It was what we were all familiar and comfortable with. To form friendships would threaten our hope with a dose of reality. But the Maquis have a saying: home is where you are."

Kathryn murmured, "I can certainly understand that attitude - your entire existence must have felt highly temporary at best."

"Yes. As a group, we grasped at any sense of permanence we could find. Because of that quality, I think perhaps the Maquis had an easier time accepting our situation here than the Starfleet crew."

"And you?" she prodded gently when he didn't go on.

"These might be the deep, dark secrets you wanted to hear earlier. Now that I think about it, you may not like them."

She encouraged, "Please, go on."

He nodded. "To be honest, I'm not quite sure I want to go back to the Alpha Quadrant. I have nothing there waiting for me. My parents are gone, I never felt comfortable with my tribe, didn't feel much better with Starfleet, and technically I'm nothing but a criminal," he explained. "In the Delta Quadrant, I have Voyager. I have a job that I can respect, I have friends who won't kill me if I turn my back on them, and I have you."

A rush of air escaped her lips as she stared at him. None of what he had said surprised her, and she admired his courage and honesty in the telling. "That's quite a confession."

"It's been building up for a long time," he admitted.

"I'm glad you told me," she answered quietly. After taking a deep breath, she started on her reply. "And honesty deserves honesty. You're right; I have been hiding from you, from all of this, probably for as long as we've been in this quadrant. Unlike you, I've had a bit harder time accepting that dose of reality, as you called it. I felt that if I gave up hope, then the crew had nothing left."

"I think that's reasonable," Chakotay said. "You are the captain."

"I've always known it was my responsibility to keep that hope from dying. Maybe that wasn't fair to you, or to me, but it was the best I could do and still live with myself. Then came New Earth." Kathryn indulged in a reflective half smile. "Being alone with you certainly forced the issue. Now I find it amusing that instead of dealing with it, I wanted to make rules and regulations!"

Chakotay shrugged. "That's part of who you are. Try not to be too hard on yourself," he suggested.

But she shook her head. "They always were my security blanket, even when I was too young to understand what I was doing. Of course, the entire idea of adhering to rules seems highly ludicrous now."

"I admit I'm glad to hear that." Chakotay grinned in relief.

She retorted with a slap of her own on his leg. Aloud, she continued, "And as to the crew... in all honesty, they don't need me anymore. Or more accurately, they don't need my hope anymore. They're forming their own relationships, dealing with the loss of home in positive ways, and I know that. I can even look at Harry Kim now and not feel guilty. Well, not too guilty." She looked at him and pensively chewed on her thumb nail. A crease rose between her brows. "I think that I'm not the same person anymore, Chakotay."

"I would agree," he said encouragingly.

"I don't think you're the same person, either."

Chakotay let his fingers probe the tattoo over his eye. "I would agree with that, too."

"Change is a good thing, though not always welcome," Kathryn quietly mused. Her thoughts again turned to Mark, and she suddenly realized that this situation had nothing to do with him. Her feelings for that man were largely unchanged, and likely to remain that way. Yet hanging on to the past rarely encouraged anybody to move forward. "All this reminds me of something Tuvok said to me last week. I can't remember his exact words. It had something to with windows... or doors. When one door closes, and one happiness ends, he said we usually spend so long looking at that closed door that we don't realize it when another door opens for us."

Chakotay slowly nodded. "That's very wise. Tuvok understands a great deal about emotions for a Vulcan."

"I like to think I had some influence there."

He smiled. "It brings to my mind a bit of advice Kes sent my way a few days ago. We were talking about finding one's place in the universe. She mentioned how discordant her life was before she joined us, how at odds she felt with herself and her people. She said meeting Neelix helped her locate a center within herself, making it possible for her to keep a sense of peace and balance. Once she found that, she was able to bring peace to others as well."

Kathryn smiled fondly at him. "That's prophetic considering who she was talking to."

He grinned back at her. "Yes, I thought so too."

She turned her body until she was facing him on the couch. She reached out and took one of his large hands in both of hers. His hand was warm and solid, and very comforting.

"Well," Chakotay said. He glanced at their hands, then back up to meet her gaze. "I've found my peace, and you've found your door."

"Now what, right?"

He acknowledged her question with another slight shrug. "You know I never like to add to your burdens. But I think this has to be your decision."

"It's no more my decision than yours," she protested gently. Pretending to study their fingers, she sighed and thoughtfully went on, "I think we both know what we want. Allowing our duties or the crew or any amount of defined parameters to interfere does nothing more than cloud the issue and postpone the inevitable. And besides," she added simply, a quiet, quirky smile growing on her lips, "it's time." Time to forget the past, to ignore restraints, to embrace the possibilities. And, Kathryn grinned, time to see if he really does kiss as well as I think he does.

Chakotay laughed a light chuckle, almost as if he could read her mind. Perhaps he could. Grinning, they leaned closer, closing the distance between them. Kathryn reached a hand up to caress his cheek and -

*Sickbay to the captain.*

Kathryn paused, then leaned back. Ah, the first interruption in shipboard romance occurs, she thought in mild irritation. She wished it hadn't occurred so soon. "Janeway here. Go ahead, Doctor." She watched Chakotay even as she paid attention to the query coming through the comm channel. He winked saucily.

The pleased tones of Voyager's holographic doctor almost didn't register after that, but she forced herself to listen. *I'm happy to inform you that the new graviton bed Lieutenant Torres and I have been building is working and ready for duty. Two days ahead of schedule, I might add.* The doctor's voice positively dripped with pride.

"That's excellent news, Doctor." She tried hard to sound enthusiastic.

*If you would like to come down to Sickbay, I would be delighted to show you its features and wide range of uses.*

How many uses can a graviton bed possibly have? she asked herself. Obviously thinking similar thoughts, Chakotay smothered a laugh behind his hand. Kathryn licked her lips, trying to hold back her own laughter. When she heard a snicker from the commander even after his attempts to control himself, she reached out to add her hand as an additional barrier across his mouth, hoping to shield the doctor from the sound. He kissed her palm. Without warning, her fingers began to tingle. "Well, ah, I'm a little busy right now, Doctor, but I will be happy to take a look at your latest creation the minute I'm free."

Not put off, the voice continued confidently, *Of course, Captain, at your convenience. Doctor out.*

The channel closed. Kathryn and Chakotay burst out laughing.

Finally Chakotay calmed enough to say, "Now let me think: what can you do with a graviton bed, besides the obvious?"

"I'm sure Tom Paris can come up with something suitably creative!" she answered.

"I better tell B'Elanna to run in the other direction then."

A frown etched across Kathryn's forehead. "Do you know something I don't know?"

Chakotay stood, wearing an equally puzzled expression. "I'm not sure - maybe she had something in mind when she helped the doctor create that bed," he said, and then his eyebrows arched knowingly.

"Or maybe you have too much time on your hands; you're starting to hallucinate," she suggested while he pulled her to her feet. Before she had gained her balance, he gave another tug and pulled her into his arms.

"I don't think I'm hallucinating now, but I could discuss it with my spirit guide if it would make you feel better." He smiled down at her.

Once her surprise had passed, Kathryn settled comfortably against him. Her arms circled around him and her heart did a little, excited flutter. She smiled back. "Tomorrow, perhaps," she said. And then... she kissed him.

Moments later, when her stomach was still plunging to her toes and back in excited flips, Kathryn emerged from her ready room with a ridiculous grin on her face. You look like an idiot, she reprimanded herself. She tried to compose her expression, but found it beyond her abilities at this point. She was simply too happy. The bridge crew would stare, she knew, but she also realized that she didn't care.

Chakotay followed her out, his fingers firmly closed around hers. They parted at the command level, very pointedly releasing their clasped hands as the commander calmly continued on to the turbolift and she crossed to her chair. Belatedly she wondered if that affectionate gesture was too much too soon, but she knew it was too late now. That's right, Kathryn, just jump right in, she advised herself in silent sarcasm. Mr. Tuvok rose, his face unreadable as always, but she fancied his brows were arched just a bit high for an impassive Vulcan. She allowed herself one brief survey of the room before retrieving command of the bridge.

Harry Kim unabashedly stared at her, his mouth agape and his eyes wide in stunned silence. Tom Paris looked astonished, but had enough presence of mind to turn quickly and examine his control panel. General surprise met her on all sides. An awkward silence threatened to fall over the bridge, and Kathryn knew she had to set the tone once again before this thing got completely out of hand.

"Thank you, Mr. Tuvok. Return to your station." She sat and called up her computer, though there was nothing in particular that she needed to check. The familiar action would simply help to set the crew at ease again, as they were obviously recovering from complete shock. Kathryn knew the news would be all over the ship by the dinner hour, but she preferred to be the subject of news rather than outlandish rumors. Although this news might be deemed by some as pretty outlandish on its own. She smiled again.

While trying to contain her expression, she briskly ordered, "Status, Mr. Paris."

Tom scrambled over his panel for a moment, apparently unable to come up with the appropriate response.

"Is there a problem, Lieutenant?" she asked, unashamedly enjoying his discomfort.

"Uh, no, Captain," Tom managed to stammer. "Course heading one three seven mark two nine, no stars or planets in our path. Um... the warp engines are grine... uh, I mean great... fine... Holding at warp six. Captain." He finished his report on a sigh of relief heard all over the bridge.

"Very good. Mr. Kim?"

"Sensors at peak efficiency, nothing on long range or short range scanners." His voice only cracked once.

"And the sensor diagnostics?"

"Finished. Everything's working as smooth as... as...." He paused. "I can't think of a comparison right now, but it's all working... real good."

She swallowed her laughter. "Excellent." Sensing that the moment had passed and routine was again established, she felt that it might be prudent on her part to find something to do elsewhere on the ship. It was hard to get used to new ideas when the subject was staring over everyone's shoulder. Now would be a good time to convene with the doctor. "I have a graviton bed to examine, so I'll be in Sickbay. Mr. Kim, you have the bridge."

The earlier surprise was wiped away as excitement replaced it on the young ensign's face. "Yes, ma'am!" he replied enthusiastically and headed from Ops down to the command level.

Ah, such exuberance. It felt good to give the younger officers a chance to try their hand at command, she decided, especially when nothing of any import was likely to happen in her absence. With a nod she headed for the turbolift.

Tuvok stopped her. "Captain," he said softly, but quite loud enough to arrest her attention as she passed Tactical.

She might have expected this. "Yes, Tuvok?" she replied gently. If she was to be confronted with any sanctions for her decision and subsequent behavior, it would come from her closest friend.

Tuvok motioned minutely towards the turbolift with his eyes, and softly said, "I must confess that, at first, I was surprised."

Kathryn could only assume that his eye movement and words referred to the recently departed commander, and hence to her, and to their new alliance. The Vulcan's attempt at secrecy amused her. She wanted to tell him that he didn't have to whisper about it. In fact, she suddenly had to squelch the desire to shout it through the ship's main intercom.

But Tuvok had paused, and she wanted to hear more. "What are you now?" she inquired.

Tuvok took a deep breath before saying, "On further deliberation, I find that I am not surprised so much as intrigued."

"Oh?"

"Until now I had reason to believe that we agreed on the policy concerning command relationships; they are illogical and emotionally dangerous for the parties involved as well as for the crew." Kathryn nodded, and he continued, "Yet I suddenly realize something I had not considered before."

"What's that, Tuvok?"

"There is strength in unity, Captain."

That was something Chakotay would say, she thought. With a sigh, she placed a warm hand on his arm and said, "Yes, Tuvok, there is." Her uncontrollable smile erupted again.

An answering smile barely hinted at the corners of his mouth. Tuvok nodded once.

With that nod, Kathryn understood that her friend's blessings had just been given. Though Tuvok's opinion wouldn't have changed her decision, she was gratified that she had his support.

"My logic yields to your wisdom, Captain."

"Thank you, Tuvok." She patted his arm, then gained the turbolift, eager to let the doctor enthuse over his latest addition to Sickbay. She was still smiling.


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