SIMILAR DIFFERENCES

By Shayenne, Em Wycedee and Sam

Disclaimer: All owned by Paramount.

Like "Once and Future Captain," this is a story started by YCD, handed off to another writer and substantively completed by Shayenne. The characters belong to Paramount; no infringement on their rights is intended. Thanks to Sam938 for the landing party scene and some very helpful commentary. Also thanks to Mary S. for a vital beta read.
Rated PG-13

 

"Of course they did it," Tom Paris scoffed. "They were down there for two months, and they expected to be there for the rest of their lives. The way you talk about them, Harry, you'd think they were our parents."

"I just don't think they would have." Kim looked defensive. "Just because a man and a woman are friends, it doesn't have to mean they want to do that."

"Friends? Harry, have you seen how he looks at her?" Paris made a suggestive gesture with his hands. "He may respect her as our commanding officer, but that is not the gaze of a loyal colleague. He wants her. You know what I mean, B'Elanna."

"I don't spend much time thinking about it." The chief engineer, who had been shaking her head slightly, crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Paris. "Not everyone is as interested in other people's love lives as you are, Tom."

"Tell us your instinct, then. You know Chakotay, and as a woman you ought to have a read on the Captain..."

"What does my being a woman have to do with anything?"

"Well, don't you act a little differently around someone after you've gone to bed with him?" While Harry blushed, B'Elanna made a strangled noise between a laugh and a shriek. "It sure looks to me like Janeway acted differently toward Chakotay after they were stranded. What do you think? Did they, or didn't they?"

Torres rolled her eyes and studied the ceiling.

"Maybe we should take bets." Paris grinned slyly. "I bet we could raise a lot of money on that pool."

"The problem is getting a definitive answer."

"Problem? Not for me. I read the security logs. She was in his quarters half the night last night. Tuvok keeps close watch on Janeway's movements, did you know that? She was in Chakotay's quarters for at least two hours before she went back to hers."

"They've pulled all-nighters before and woken me at three in the morning to ask questions. They were probably up late discussing the problem with the lateral phaser array."

"At almost midnight? They could have done that in her ready room anytime during her bridge shift."

Harry snorted. "Actually, they couldn't have. Chakotay spent a lot of the day catching up on personnel evaluations, and Janeway was down in engineering with B'Elanna going over the systems diagnostics reports for the last month.. I know because I was down there too."

"Yeah, the bridge was very quiet. Too quiet. It's been that way since Seven came on board. You know how they always used to talk through slow shifts? Even if there was no ship's business to discuss? Now it looks to me like they're afraid to let their hair down around each other. So to speak."

"They're probably just trying to maintain a professional demeanor in front of the rest of the bridge crew."

"Precisely. They're putting on a show, so we won't figure it out. But the lack of closeness looks just as suspicious as it would if they were all over each other. I tell you, Harry. I've watched them. He stares at her on the bridge when she isn't looking. And she touches him..."

"Tom, this is the captain we're talking about. She touches everyone. Remember that time you kept count of how often she made unnecessary contact with the bridge crew? I think it was two for you, three for Chakotay, one for me and one for B'Elanna during a single shift."

"Not any more. She's changed. It's like she got rid of the part that used to be able to relax around us, and turned completely into the captain..." The end of the word nearly turned into a curse as Chakotay unexpectedly came around the corner. "Commander. Good morning."

***


Chakotay looked from Paris to Torres to Kim, deciding to pretend he hadn't heard the end of their conversation. It wouldn't do for him to be pouring out his frustrations to the junior officers, even if they were the closest things to friends he had on this ship now that Janeway had shut down. "Ensign. Lieutenants. Getting ready for the away mission?" he greeted them neutrally.

"I'm just working transporter controls on this one," said Harry regretfully. "Tom gets to pilot the shuttle to the dilithium deposits. And you get to beam down to the rainforest!"

"The captain asked me to check into food sources. I guess she trusts my taste more than Neelix's." The younger crew, to give them credit, barely broke a smile.

Chakotay grimaced, the irony of what they suspected and the reality so dichotomous. They thought it was a lover's gift; in fact he had been given the assignment as a sort of apology, to make up for the distance Janeway had put between herself and him since the Borg. It didn't begin to make up for what he'd lost; it couldn't possibly. Still, he was looking forward to being away, even if that meant being in a tropical climate, and navigating a jungle. He wanted to feel the ground underneath his feet, and the sun on his skin again, just to remind himself? he was alive.

Nodding to the junior officers, he got his replicated breakfast and headed out of the mess to his office to study the readings Tuvok had directed to his attention.

Three hours later, he was finally on the surface, on the bank of a river. The cloying humidity made respiration difficult. He gasped quickly, panting, and then made himself breathe regularly, trying to adjust to the virulent change in atmosphere. The heat overpowered him; an inferno of clinging steam settled like a cowl, masking his view, making reason difficult. He tried to shake off his dread, and stared carefully at what he could see of the land. He'd forgotten how alien jungles were; he who preferred the infinite vistas of the mountain tops, or the intricacies of the canyons. Here there were no perspectives -- just an endless sea of dense grays and greens, surrounding, encompassing, claustrophobically demanding his surrender.

He shook away his anxiety, and damned his imagination. But he couldn't stop himself from scanning the river, from staring out at it thankfully, recognizing it for the immense lifeline that it was. The water, impenetrably black, occasionally gray, rolled past him slowly, unalterable in its course here. He scanned the area in detail, noting all the tributaries, the endless intricacy that the water had wrought from the land, demanding access. Shaking his head, he turned away. There was no time for choices, for options. Right now, he needed to concentrate on the detail that was the jungle.

Chakotay adjusted his senses, his sight focusing on the minutiae critical to survival here, so unlike the open comforting similarity of flora in the mountains. He scanned the vegetation...each piece unique, each a monoculture unto itself. Groaning, he cursed the mission. It would take days on this planet to identify foodstuffs; every single bush and tree would have to be carefully scanned. Nothing was the same, nothing an easy choice or selection.

Five hours later, he dropped down to the ground, wiping the sweat from his eyes. He looked at the bulb in his hand, and grimaced. The fruit had looked promising, but the scan indicated that the large citrus had high concentrations of sulfur just below the skin. Still, the day hadn't been wasted completely. He'd beamed up some pulp that had DNA similarities to apples. Very vague similarities; it probably wouldn't pan out in the end. There were other tubers growing nearby as well, but they seemed to be infested with insects. He shrugged cynically. He'd leave that for last. He had no desire to relive his last experience with an insect bite.

At least, not down here alone, without Kathryn.

The sky was darkening, and a breeze had finally started, lifting the once unyielding steam of the day up into the sky. He watched the clouds with concern as they gathered, checking his tricorder. Rain on this planet was bound to be relentless and unforgiving. Of course, he'd been in other storms like that and lived through them. He sat up, trying to force away the memory. Despite its vastly different vegetation, this planet had plasma storms that reminded him of New Earth. He tried to stay focused on gathering plant samples, ignoring things that reminded him of what never was and could no longer be.

He set up camp for the night beside a lake, a swamp, with tributaries extending out on all sides. Some reached further into the jungle, their fingers clawing their way through the dark and the growth. Others led out towards the huge immensity that they'd nicknamed a river, for lack of a better term. The steam of the day now settled over the lake, ethereal in the reflecting glow from the stars.

He looked up at them, watching them beckon, looking for home.

"Chakotay to Janeway."

"I was wondering when you'd get around to checking in."

He smiled. "Where are you?"

"My quarters, obviously." Her tone was dry and caustic. She got to the point. "What the hell are you doing down there?"

He turned over, his attention distracted by movement in the lake. It was too dark to see the reason for the motion. He sat up, and scanned the area. It was an animal, gliding though the darkness. Large, but alone. He settled down again, and looked up at the stars. "Damn it, Kathryn, it's a jungle, class four. Everything's unique. It's going to take time..."

"We don't have time. I'm sending down another away team to help with the analysis. You should have approved one hours ago."

"I don't recommend -- "

She broke in, firm in her assessment. "You don't like jungles -- you never have, and I can't afford to indulge you in the paranoia, XO or not. Chakotay --"

He sighed. "I know. We need to move on. And success on this planet is going to be a hell of a job that needs a lot of warm bodies attached to the prospect. But there's something wrong with -- "

She interrupted. " -- with the situation, you can feel it." She sighed. "So can I, even from up here. But it's not logical. We have to choose the most likely path, and that's to get down there, get the food we need, and get out."

He turned back to the lake, now silent and still. "Aye, Captain."

"I'll beam them down at 0600 tomorrow."

"Acknowledged."

In the end, even two away teams hadn't been enough. It took four teams, working around the clock for five days, to identify sufficient edible materials for them to continue on their journey. Ultimately, even Janeway had beamed down. He hadn't liked that at all. Normally the captain wouldn't have taken the risk, but to try to show Seven the wonders of the universe, she would make an exception. Thus Seven, who expressed continual mystification at the crew's need to feel solid ground beneath their feet, wasn't around to monitor the astrometrics sensors that could have given them readings of the entire planetary surface.

They had just begun the beam-outs when the storm began.

Sheets of rain beat against them, slashing down over them, tearing apart the camp and sending them to the ground on their knees, hands clutching at anything that could keep them static. Chakotay looked up at the sky, full of deepening black masses of unrelenting currents, swirling insanely, demanding surrender and damned it and the mission.

He searched for Janeway, and located her; her body wrapped in a cord attached to a plantain. His breath suddenly, impossibly came more easily. She was working furiously with Torres to get the pattern enhancers on the planet to activate -- to augment beam outs. He thanked whatever gods were out there as he watched the rest of the crew disassemble, even Torres.

Finally, after they were all gone, he slowly made his way over to her, fighting the gales each step of the way. She stared at him, shocked. "Damn it, I thought you were already on board. What are you --"

"Waiting for you."

She shrugged angrily and started to set the enhancers. He grabbed her hand.

"Not before you, Captain. You know damned well that the chances of survival are limited without someone monitoring the transport from here. I'm not leaving before you."

"It makes no -- "

"I'm not arguing." She was ready to kill him, he could see that. He thought quickly. "But I'll compromise."

He hit his comm badge. "Torres, bring us both back. Now."

He felt himself dematerialize.

***


"I've lost them." Harry's voice was bleak. Torres pushed him bodily from the transporter controls, glaring at the readings as her hands flew over the dials. Cross-circuiting didn't work. Nor could she recalibrate the beam to send them back. Finally, in desperation, she tried reversing and amplifying the patterns in the buffers with the plasma acting as a signal enhancer.

She swore, happily, and everyone breathed a great sigh of relief when the captain and commander appeared on the transporter platform.

Then the comm buzzed from the planet. Torres started and then opened the link.

"Janeway to Torres. We're back on the surface. What's going on?"

***


Later, in her ready room, the Janeway and Chakotay who had appeared on the ship sat in conference with their doubles. Exact doubles, Torres had said, indistinguishable by tricorder scan or standard medical readout. "From the readings we took after you materialized, it would appear that Torres' amplifying the signal through the plasma caused it to split," explained Janeway. "When she used the buffers to pull the patterns back, they doubled the subatomic particles -- one set on the ship, the other on the surface."

"Like the accident that created Tuvix?" Kathryn looked at the Chakotay beside her, the one who had appeared on the planet with her. When she learned that a Janeway and Chakotay had already materialized on the ship, she'd had momentary terror that the captain on board would strand them there rather than deal with the implications of having all of them on board. Chakotay had looked at her as if he could read her mind, smiled inscrutably, then hit his own comm badge and started talking to the other captain, suggesting that she beam them up at once so that they could figure out what had happened.

"This is the opposite of what created Tuvix. The transporter split us apart -- I guess it could have been worse, it could have merged us together." Both Chakotays grinned and looked at the floor. "At least no one's going to have a dilemma about whether to separate us. The question is, what do we do with all of us?"

The first officer started talking about Tom Riker, whom he'd known briefly in the Maquis. Kathryn had heard about the accident that had created two Rikers -- a boon to the galaxy, she thought with wry amusement, picturing two sets of those blue eyes. Will had come through the experience fine; all the existential dilemma seemed to fall on the duplicate, who had rejoined Starfleet after more than a decade alone. Tom had become erratic, nearly an inverse of his twin. Even so, she had been shocked to learn he had joined the Maquis.

And now a virtually identical accident had created her. A few seconds of transporter anomaly, her life torn apart. Literally. The scientific puzzle of their creation seemed less important than the philosophical dilemma of their existence. It was not like her to think this way, focused on the esoteric rather than the practical.

Kathryn looked across the room at her own face. She -- the other she -- was speaking. "We'll have to make a decision, even if it's arbitrary, about who will be captain and first officer of this ship. In this rank structure, there's really no place for all four of us, and I don't think it makes sense to disrupt the system we already have in place in order to fit all of us into the hierarchy. There's no easy solution here."

She heard her own voice again, as if from the same distance, but coming from her own mouth. "The two of you materialized on the ship. Which suggests that, had the beam been terminated instead of reversed and amplified, you would have been the only ones to materialize at all."

A pause, then Chakotay spoke -- the Chakotay who had materialized with her on the planet. She realized that she was thinking of him as "my Chakotay."

"That makes us the duplicates," he agreed. "We should have the Doctor check us for minute variations at the molecular level, like the sort caused by cloning. I doubt the doubling would cause any side effects, but there might be some degradation to the DNA."

"The opposite might have happened," the other Chakotay said. "Your beam was amplified when ours was disrupted. You might have a more stable genetic structure..."

"A few hours and it won't matter anymore, our bodies will have repaired the damage." Her other self speaking. "We should be glad that any of us made it through. I'd much rather the ship has two captains and first officers than none."

"But if we need some way to decide..." Her Chakotay looked at the captain. "We're the second set. The ones who shouldn't be here."

"Kathryn?" she heard the other ask her awkwardly.

A moment of looking into the chasm. All the years of work, all the sacrifices, only to lose her command to a transporter malfunction...well, as the other Janeway had said, it could have been much worse. It could have been her life, both their lives, and with them the future of Voyager. None of them were going to risk the command structure of her ship in a power struggle.

"It would seem that, by virtue of the timing of the transporter beam, you are the legitimate captain and first officer. I accept that. We have to make it clear so that there won't be any question among the crew."

"Chakotay?" The question was directed to the man at her side.

"Yes, Captain." He smiled faintly, unruffled. She felt a simultaneous surge of pleasure and jealousy at his warmth. Silly, to be jealous of herself, but if he gravitated toward the captain rather than towards whoever Kathryn Janeway was outside that title... "That's settled, then. I guess the next question is, what's to become of us?"

"We can partition our, that is, my and your, quarters," said the first officer to his double. It slammed home to Kathryn that she wasn't only giving up her command -- she was going to have to give up her home on this ship, and her ready room, and at least half of her belongings.

"I take it you won't object to sharing the medicine bundle?"

"Not if you don't object to sharing our animal guide." The other Chakotay smiled cheerfully. So Chakotay was enough at peace with himself to be a friend to his own duplicate. She chanced a look at the captain -- she'd never realized before how thoroughly she became that title on duty. Could she trust that woman right now?

"There's one other thing we have to decide how to share," said the first officer. "Our name."

A long silence, then her Chakotay said, "I'm going to take our father's name. You know we thought about doing that after the war, anyway." More smiles between the two of them, along with some sheepish embarrassment. She looked at Captain Kathryn Janeway.

"What about us?" she asked.

"Nobody on this ship calls me Kathryn, anyway," the captain murmured. Both Chakotays looked at her sharply. "Except you. If you want the name, it's yours. I'll...shorten mine, or something."

"Kath" made Kathryn think of Mark--he was the only one who'd ever used it. She raised an eyebrow.

"Well, I'm not going by 'Goldenbird.'" The captain sounded petulant, as she had when she was a child and her father used the name in front of guests. Both men snickered. "I'm sure it won't be a problem if we both use Kathryn as a first name. I just thought you might want something all to yourself."

"Not that." Kathryn tried to smile at Janeway. "There might be one advantage here."

"What's that?"

"For all the times I've wished there were two of me, one to command the ship and one to take the science station..."

She watched Janeway weigh the offer, come to a quick decision. "All right. We do need a science officer. With a different uniform, it won't be a problem for you to keep your--our commission. We'll just have to hope we don't think too much alike to be no use to each other." She smiled wryly. "Cha--Kolopak, right?" Kathryn listened to Janeway's voice wrap itself around the alien syllables. "Where do you see yourself?"

"On the bridge, naturally." His voice was joking, but there was a tiny bit of an edge to it. "We don't have a ship's counselor, and we don't have a xenopsychologist, and on a mission like Voyager's, we need both very badly. I think I could fill that role. I was a first contact specialist, and I'm well-versed in psychiatry."

Both captain and first officer nodded together. Drawn lines, shifted loyalties--it was settled, then.

"I'm going to give you a Starfleet commission," Janeway decided, facing Kolopak. "Pips, not a rank bar. Kathryn, I can't give you a captain's rank..."

"I know that. Three pips are fine for me, too."

Janeway strode around the desk. "Computer. Open the crew manifest."

***


Two hours later, after a nightmare of working through security protocols keyed to identical voice and retinal scans, Kathryn was a science officer. Standing in sickbay, after an examination that revealed no difference whatsoever between her DNA and the captain's, not even at the molecular level -- oh, there were tiny differences because she'd been on the planet longer, had absorbed more radiation and breathed in more pollen, and afterwards she had consumed more coffee. But there were none of the telltale signs of degradation that one would expect to see in a clone. "No genetic drift. You'll be able to have children," the Doctor told her and Kolopak. When she stared, he added, "That is, I didn't necessarily mean together. Of course there's no reason you couldn't have children together, if you wanted to, but there's no reason you should think..." Kathryn waved him silent. Kolopak tried not to smirk.

They had brought her the blue-shouldered uniform without her asking. She could see her reflection in the transparent aluminum that separated the Doctor's office from the rest of Sickbay; the color suited her. She had never worn this particular style of the uniform as a commander; she'd already been a captain when the new uniforms were approved. Her hands wavered near her hair, then began to braid it into a soft knot.

He watched her. Subtly, half-turned away as he affixed three pips to his collar -- he was still wearing red, though Janeway could easily have decided to put him, too, in the blue science uniform. That would have meant replicating new uniforms, however -- there was no one on board Chakotay's size, whereas she was close in height to several of the junior officers, a fact she tried to disguise by wearing boots that elevated her height. It didn't matter now. As ship's counselor, he would be called upon in more command situations than herself.

"Come have a drink with me," he said as they left sickbay, heading to the quarters that used to be his. Like Chakotay, Janeway had agreed to partition her living and sleeping quarters for the time being, so that they would each have a small room; they hadn't even begun to discuss dividing up their belongings. Chakotay, who owned mostly replicas of originals lost when his ship blew up, had had an easier time telling Kolopak to take whatever he wanted to his new room; the captain had allowed him extra replicator privileges to make new copies.

Kathryn wasn't really in the mood for drinking, but she was in the mood for company, and not ready to face the curious crowd in the mess hall. She followed Kolopak to his quarters. Sitting in a half-lit room drinking Irish coffee, she tried to relax.

"Can I ask you something personal, Kathryn? I've always wanted to know. Even if it's not the answer I would have wanted."

She sighed; she'd suspected this was coming. He wasn't even going to give her a day to adjust to the situation. "What?"

"When we were stranded. If Voyager hadn't come back..."

"Stop." It was the only word she could get out before her chest contracted too painfully for speech. She felt him put a steadying hand on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have..."

"You shouldn't have fallen for that Borg woman a few weeks later, is what you shouldn't have." The words bit through the air, shocking her as much as him. "You shouldn't have proven to me that I was right that getting involved with you would be a bad idea. You have no right to be asking me, after all this time..."

"I'm sorry." His face was as stricken as his voice, but she still couldn't trust him. "Kathryn, I didn't mean to hurt you, ever. I thought you didn't want to be pushed. Then I thought you just didn't want me."

"What would you have liked me to do, make a shipwide announcement?" She let her breath out slowly. "I shouldn't have said that. I had no right to expect anything when it was impossible, we both knew that."

"Is that the only reason? Because you thought it was impossible?"

"That was reason enough. It was always going to be. Let's just drop it."

They sat in tense silence. She knew what he would say when it finally broke, although she thought perhaps he wouldn't say it tonight, perhaps he would give it more time...

"It's not impossible now."

"We don't even know who we're going to be now."

"Kathryn, please. Give us a chance."

"Would you at least give me a chance to get used to the situation?"

He nodded. "Sometimes in the past I felt like maybe I didn't make my feelings clear enough. I don't want to make that mistake again."

In spite of herself, she smiled wryly. "You made your feelings amply clear, Chak -- Kolopak." He smiled too.

"I'm going to miss the way you said my name." "I'll still call him Chakotay." Her voice came out huskier than she intended, and her companion laughed aloud.

"This may sound petty of me, but I don't want you to say it that way to him. Can't you be more clinical about it?"

"You're afraid I like him better than you, aren't you!" He grinned sheepishly, and she returned the expression, remembering feeling the same way when he addressed the captain. "I'll try to say your name the same way. Kolopak."

"It's a little odd to hear you say my father's name like that." His face looked suddenly stricken, and she realized that in her calculations of how much she had lost, she discounted everything he had had to give up even before the accident, even before she met him. How many times could a man start over with next to nothing?

She touched his hand, but regretted the impulse as soon as he looked into her eyes. "Kathryn. We've both lost so much. Let's build something new."

"I can't. Not now. I have to do this myself."

"No, you don't. That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"I can't rebuild everything around you."

"I'm not asking you to."

"You are. You want me to be with you in a way I never could if we were still..."

"But we're not," he interrupted. No exasperation, just concern for her in his voice. "We're never going to be those people again. This isn't like New Earth, where there was a chance we might get off the planet someday. It's more like we died and came back as different people. You are never going to be the captain of Voyager again."

Tears welled in her eyes. Angrily she swiped at them. "We have a lot to get settled. New jobs, that's going to take a lot of time. And we have to get to know these people all over again."

"You've lost your career. I understand how difficult that must be. But you've never been able to relate to the people here as anything other than their captain. You don't have to feel responsible for them anymore. These people care about you, Kathryn."

"It's too much. You're right, it's like we died and came back to find we'd been replaced, not just in our jobs but with our families, everything -- it's like my entire life is gone."

"I'm sorry," he said, sounding just the way he had on New Earth when she'd recognized her research was ruined and with it her hopes. If Voyager hadn't come back...

She remembered feeling a similar grief, when she'd realized what she was going to have to give up when she went back to the ship. There hadn't been room then, either, for his grief. Yet he had always had room for hers, had always been there for her, even when she tried not to let him.

She let the tears fall. There was no reason to stop them. Nor to stop him when he put his arms around her.

Hours later, Kathryn opened her eyes. They were on his bed. It was night; he'd dimmed the lights most of the way. He was asleep, one hand resting protectively on her hip.

Raising up on her elbow, she looked into his face and considered him. He looked happy in dreams, his full lips parted moistly in sleep. When she sighed, he closed his mouth, shifted a little. His hand did not break contact with her body.

She had always told herself it was duty that stood in the way of her having a relationship with this man. But she knew that even when duty was not an issue -- like on New Earth, and now -- she was afraid of the complexity of the bond between them. They had begun as enemies, adversaries in a war. After that situation, the partnership they forged of necessity had seemed almost like a honeymoon. Their crews had merged with surprising ease, and the two of them had become friends, with the current of attraction buzzing beneath the surface from the beginning. Then the trust had been broken -- over Seska, over Jonas, over Riley, over the Borg, over Seven, over and over.

He loved her, of that she had no doubt. He'd told her so, in other words and with his actions--on New Earth and on duty. Despite all that had come between them, she didn't really doubt his commitment. He had taken what she offered without pressure or regret. She had never had to answer his feelings, not even in her own mind; always it was a question for the future, secondary to the roles which took priority for both of them. But that was no longer the case.

What would it mean for them to decide to start over as the people they were now? Who would she become? They were equals now. Two commanders, perhaps fourth and fifth in the chain of command--perhaps lower, depending on what Janeway decided. Since Justin, she'd never considered being with someone like this. A working relationship that was also a love affair. A partnership on every level. It terrified her, and it exhilarated her, so that her body felt suddenly electrified. As if the current surged through her flesh to his, his hand twitched on her hip and he opened his eyes.

She knew what he saw on her face. His answering expression made her draw in a shaky breath. He was right; what had happened was irrevocable. She would never again be the person she had been, before there were two of her.

"I feel so lost," she whispered.

"We're not any more lost than we've ever been in the Delta Quadrant. When we get back, they're going to get two of each of us. It's a miracle." His fingers slid from her hip to clasp her hand. Their fingers interlaced, as they had that night so long ago.

And the truth dawned on her, so shocking she couldn't even muster the anger he deserved.

"You're not sorry this happened."

Kolopak took a deep breath as his eyes disengaged from hers, but not fast enough to keep her from reading the truth in them. "I'm sorry you're so unhappy."

"But you're not sorry we're no longer the captain and first officer of this ship."

"I don't know yet."

Kathryn extracted her fingers from his, and watched the light fade from his eyes. For the first time since the accident, he looked as forlorn as she felt. Except the feeling was fading, even now. And she knew why, no matter how much she tried not to admit it to herself. The explorer in her could not repress a certain excitement, the expectation of new avenues to explore, new challenges to meet. She was going to be fine...and she was no longer alone.

"Give me one good reason not to be sorry." She reached out to touch his face. Static electricity sparked between them, but she did not pull her hand away. His momentary shock transformed into unrestrained happiness that crinkled the corners of his eyes.

"Just one?"

"Just one." She tried to sound lighthearted, but she knew her seriousness had conveyed itself to him. As he had said, there was no going back, ever.

The man who had stood at her side for half a decade shifted toward her, joy radiating from him as tangibly as body heat. "I love you," he whispered. And he kissed her.

***


"Where were you last night?"

Kathryn had entered the bedroom of her old quarters in a good mood, but one look at Captain Janeway's face made her gut clench. They had agreed to meet during the captain's off shift to divide up some of their remaining belongings; they had not otherwise spoken since the day before. Kathryn had spent most of the morning in sickbay, indulging the Doctor's demand for several more tests. Then she had invited Seven to play Velocity with her, but she wasn't really concentrating and missed easy shots; noting her distraction, Seven had recommended coldly that they reschedule, and Kathryn had agreed. She sat at the science station on the bridge, trying to catch up on scientific journals she hadn't read since she made captain, but there, too, her mind kept wandering. Strangely, it was a pleasant sensation.

Now, however, that was gone. Kathryn gazed levelly at her duplicate.

"I'm not sure why you need to know that," she said carefully.

Janeway's eyes darkened. "You realize of course that your reputation will affect mine."

"Oh, so I shouldn't get drunk with Chell and the Delaney Sisters?" She tried to make light of the situation, but her mind was racing. Of course the captain -- the person she had been earlier that same week -- would object to her spending the night in Chakotay's quarters. Of course it would reflect on Janeway when Kathryn admitted what the woman before her refused to acknowledge -- that a starship captain had feelings for her second in command. Casually she continued, "I fell asleep in Kolopak's quarters. Theirs had already been partitioned, ours hadn't. It wasn't any different than the times we fell asleep on his couch poring over padds."

"The crew might not see it that way."

"I'm not going to continue to act like the captain when I'm not the captain just because the crew might see you differently. That's not fair to me."

Janeway slowly nodded, though the anger in her eyes had not faded. "Well, let's get this over with. What among our personal effects do you particularly want?"

"Well, I hadn't made a list, but I want one of Daddy's insignia bars. And if you don't mind I'd like to keep that painting Phoebe did that's in the other room. And the gramophone we never have time to play. I guess we can share the books. Do you want Mother's vase?" "The gramophone is..." Janeway suddenly fell silent. Kathryn felt sure she had been about to say, "The gramophone is mine" before she remembered their situation. "All right, that's fine. What about our clothes?"

"Do you mind if I take the blue dress?"

Another sharp look. Of course Janeway remembered the last time they'd worn that dress, the last day on New Earth. And she probably suspected why Kathryn wanted it. "Fine," she snapped.

"Well, this isn't too hard."

"What about Mark's picture?"

The question was pointed and nasty, calculated to hurt. It hit a nerve Kathryn hadn't realized she had. "You'd better keep that. I think you'll need it more than I will," she bit back.

The upward sweep of Janeway's head, the glare on her face actually made Kathryn take a step back. The captain looked both angry and nauseous, as if her worst nightmare was coming true. "You slept with him, didn't you."

"Mark?"

Janeway didn't dignify the misdirection with a response.

"What makes you ask? Is it what you would have done, if you were me?"

"I'm not you." The captain's words were quietly said, but the undercurrent of bitterness ran deep.

Kathryn stared across a widening chasm at the captain of Voyager -- a woman she apparently could no longer count on as a friend. She hadn't realized how much she'd been troubled by self-doubt...nor how obvious it would appear, externalized. "I think we both need some time to adjust. Let's finish this later."

***


Despite the inward turmoil, life went on relatively normally on the bridge, with Kolopak taking over some of Chakotay's responsibilities concerning the crew and Kathryn operating the scientific array while Torres worked from engineering. One morning Janeway asked Chakotay for their notes on the last set of crew evaluations, but Chakotay realized he had turned them over to Kolopak. Since Kol was working with Neelix on the recreation renovations, he told Chakotay to go to his quarters and pick them up.

The padds were on the table, right where Kol had said they would be. Chakotay could not help but laugh at the discovery that he was just as much of a slob even without having to keep a first officer's long hours. There were clothes strewn everywhere, dishes full of crumbs on the table. He thought he heard the noise of something shifting, but nothing looked amiss. Still, it reminded him that it wasn't his place to interfere, so he gathered the data and turned to go.

He almost smacked into her. She'd crept up behind him, was smiling into his face, rising on tiptoe. Not his Kathryn, he knew instantly, not the captain, whom he'd left on the bridge...but even as that fact was registering, her arms went the rest of the way around him, trapping him against the table. She was wearing nothing but a towel, her hair was down, spilling over her shoulders, not long enough to hide her breasts. He hadn't realized until that moment just how much he'd missed Janeway's long hair--helplessly his hands started to rise. Despite the rank bar, she wasn't paying attention, she thought he was the man she wanted him to be.

"I'm..." he started to gasp.

Too late. Her mouth was on his, sweet with whatever she'd been eating and with whatever made her smell so good all the time. And demanding, her hands pulling his head down to her. He kissed her helplessly, arms locked in the air behind her back, aching to close around her, unable to push her away as he knew he must.. These weren't his quarters. None of this was his...

"Stop," he managed to moan against her mouth, mostly inarticulate, but his urgency communicated itself. She leaned back, putting a hand on his face as she looked into his eyes.

"What is it, love?" she asked.

An impulse he would not have believed possible rose within him. He thought of murder. Getting rid of the usurper. Two of her was perfect--she was the captain of the ship, that was all one of her would ever be--but two of him was one too many. This Kathryn could have been his, if only...

No. Bad enough that he could think about getting rid of his twin, his other half. He could never betray her--not this "her," but the one on the bridge, the one to whom he had pledged his life and his soul. "I'm not...him," he managed. His eyes closed. She didn't let go, even when he heard her gasp of understanding. He opened his eyes, expecting her to make an embarrassed joke, or get mad and throw him out. The sympathy in her expression shocked him.

"I'm sorry," she said. She pulled her fingers back from his face to grip the towel higher on her body, like that night on New Earth (stop remembering that), stepping back when he fumbled behind him for the edge of the table. "I didn't think..." she apologized, then her tone changed abruptly. "I can't believe he was stupid enough to send you down here without checking first."

"Well, we both know he's an idiot." The words were quiet, but they broke the tension; she grinned ruefully at him, and he managed something akin to a laugh. "I just, uh, I needed the evaluations, he told me they were in his quarters, so I came in..." He was babbling. "I'll go now."

"Chakotay." Her voice stopped him halfway to the door. "Don't tell her, okay?"

"Don't tell--her?"

"Tell Kolopak whatever you want, but let me talk to her." He wondered whether she meant about kissing him, or about her and Kol. Did Janeway suspect? Surely she must--he had suspected, though he hadn't guessed it would have gone so far so quickly. Kathryn had changed so much, Like she'd really split in two, and the captain couldn't reconcile the parts of herself which this woman possessed. This woman, who didn't seem to see a contradiction between who and what she was...

"I won't tell another soul." Did "another soul" apply to Kol in this case? Were they one soul, or two? He turned and winked at her, awkwardly, trying not to look too closely, not to take a mental picture of her standing there amidst clothes and objects which had once been his own, wearing his towel, belonging to this room and its regular occupant. Not himself. Someone else entirely.

For the first time, he understood the silent rage on Janeway's face when she saw herself in the blue jumpsuit of a science officer, speaking words the captain could never say.

***


When she thought about it as a simple matter of self-reflection, Janeway had to admit that she looked good in science blues. And that her hair looked nice in the softer style, without all the spray, twisted up sometimes or left to flow freely about her face. Everyone seemed to like her smile, her laugh, the quick sense of humor without a bitter edge of sarcasm. Paris, Torres, Chakotay -- both Chakotays -- they liked her.

The other her.

As the door to the transporter room opened, she heard the infernal trinity laughing together. Lately it seemed they were always together. Best friends. Happy. Kol in particular seemed so happy that Janeway couldn't even carry on a social conversation with him -- not that he'd had much interest in chatting with her, when he had Kathryn hanging on his every word.

She heard him now, the smile evident in his voice, as the door opened for her. "Well, I'd go with the away team if I could. This used to be my job, you know."

"You want to trade places?" Chakotay asked.

His twin's eyes brightened, tinged with something--sympathy, quickly dismissed, then a flicker of humor as he saw that he hadn't been able to hide it from the other.

"No."

"I didn't think so." The first officer grinned ruefully. The captain strode through the doorway, unwilling to name the emotion she was feeling herself. She stopped when she saw the two men looking at Kathryn, all three of them laughing together. She was outside, missing a private joke that would be never be shared with their commanding officer.

"Something the matter?" Janeway asked. She was surprised at the bitterness in her voice.

Three faces swung around towards her. Automatically she checked the collars to see which was Chakotay, but when she found his face it wasn't hard at all. Did she wear her responsibilities etched into her face as Chakotay did? Her eyes moved to Kathryn, looking younger than she ever did in the blue uniform, her hair caught up in a more relaxed style, not a captain's bun. Laughter was fading from all three in front of her.

"No, Captain," Kolopak said. "Just seeing off the away team." His eyes moved to Kathryn, an open warmth in them. "Safe trip, Commander. You too, Chakotay."

Janeway had the irrational urge to reprimand him for something. Inappropriate behavior -- allowing his personal life to interfere with duty -- but the professional facade that had snapped into place when she entered the room was solid. The three of them were behaving as consummate professionals. If she sensed the tenderness of lovers in the pair in front of her, it remained well-hidden to the casual gaze. She watched Kolopak as he worked the transporter controls, the bronze fingers moving swiftly over the panel. The man radiated a calm contentment...something she hadn't felt from Chakotay in a long time.

He should be content, she thought, a vicious edge of anger coloring her thoughts. Kolopak and Kathryn had wasted no time in becoming lovers. They hadn't flaunted their closeness, but they hadn't hidden it either, and most of the crew knew that they unofficially shared Kol's quarters. Janeway knew that there was nothing she could say to stop them. They were of equal rank now, with no barriers of protocol to stop them from indulging themselves. She wished she could shake the disquieting feeling that their behavior reflected upon her own. Irrational, she knew -- Kathryn and Kolopak were not Janeway and Chakotay, and shouldn't be held to the same standards. But her unease around them increased each time she saw them, these twins who were not herself and Chakotay but were shaped by the same influences. How easily they had turned to each other. She wouldn't let herself envy them, but she suspected that Chakotay did.

With a start she realized that Kolopak was speaking. "Captain?"

So professional. Chakotay would have used her name if it were just the two of them, standing this close to each other by the transporters. But Kol preferred to use her rank, as if he was reserving the name for her twin, the woman he loved. Even her name had been taken away from her.

"Captain, is everything all right?"

Her gaze had been fixed blankly on the transporter pad. "Yes," she said harshly. "Of course it is, Commander." Her clipped tones were intended to discourage his probing.

He was silent for a moment, as if debating whether he should continue. She felt his gaze on her. Then he said quietly, "It bothers you, doesn't it? Me and her..."

She held up a hand to halt the words, but couldn't meet his gaze. "I'm not sure what you're talking about, Commander. I'll be on the bridge."

***


Kathryn collected her food from the counter in the mess hall and hesitated. This was not the first time she had ventured to the mess hall by herself since the split, but previously it had been quiet and the few solitary crewmen had made it easy for her to eat alone. Now, in the dinner hour, the hall was packed. Kolopak, she knew, had found no difficulty in presuming on Chakotay's friendships, but she didn't have that base to fall back on. When she was the captain -- how often had she said those words to herself since the split? -- her self-imposed distance meant she didn't have the luxury of true friends on board. Apart from Chakotay. Well, she thought wryly, that was about to change, and it seemed that now was the ideal time to start forging tentative friendships. There were no vacant tables; she would have to sit with someone.

She looked around and then started over towards Tom Paris and Harry Kim, sitting together in a corner. They looked up as she approached. "May I?" She gestured towards the empty seat.

Both men looked momentarily startled that she would ask to join them, a not-unanticipated reaction. Janeway usually sat alone in the mess hall, or with Chakotay. Tom recovered first. "Sure thing, Commander. Give us your opinion on Neelix's latest creation."

She sat, telling herself that it must be hard on the crew, seeing a Kathryn who wasn't the captain among them. The silence was awkward for a moment.

"So, Commander, how's your first week on the job been?" The pilot's shrewd blue eyes assessed her.

She made a split-second decision to answer honestly. "Uncomfortable. I think there's a lot of adjustment for everyone. Not just Kolopak and me, and the Captain and Chakotay, but the crew as well." She noticed that her unconscious pairing of their names hadn't gone unnoticed by Tom.

"Where's Kolopak tonight?" he asked. "We don't often see you eating without him."

"He's running late," she said. "He'll be here shortly." She caught the look that flickered between Tom and Harry. An 'I told you so' sort of look.

Kathryn reacted defensively. "It's natural that we gravitate together after the split." The denial of a relationship hovered on her tongue, years of rejection of the idea making it an automatic response, but she suppressed it. She and Kolopak hadn't discussed it, but after only a few days of being with him it seemed like they had never been any other way -- and really they hadn't. There was no reason to be secretive. The crew's reactions weren't her concern. Briefly she worried what Janeway thought, but pushed that aside. She wasn't the captain anymore.

She took a forkful of food and grinned at Tom instead. "I don't think that your betting pool covered this particular scenario."

His eyes crinkled as he smiled back at her. "And what would you know about a betting pool?"

"Isn't it common knowledge among the crew?" Suddenly serious, she leaned forward slightly. "That's all we are, you know. Crew. Not the captain and first officer. I hope you can see us that way."

Harry shuffled slightly in his seat but Tom gazed back. "Yeah. I don't have a problem with that...Kathryn."

She tasted the sound of her name said by this man... a friend. It was good and the implicit acceptance behind its use warmed her. Deliberately she lightened the mood, poking the contents of her plate with her fork. "What did you say this was?"

"We didn't," said Harry. "Neelix seems to think it's so obvious that he won't tell us. It's not as spicy as normal."

She chewed pensively. "Not too bad. Too salty."

"It's always too salty for you." The deep voice rumbled behind them.

She shifted over on the bench to let Kolopak sit next to her. He slid in and turned to face her. "How have you been?" His hand covered hers on the table and squeezed slightly, his thumb rubbing deliberately over the back of her hand, reminding her of that morning -- lovemaking slow and sensual.

"Tom, Harry. How's it going?" Kolopak turned to her companions.

She noticed Harry's eyes fixed on their joined hands and smiled slightly to herself. Yes, it was awkward for the crew too. But Kolopak's presence paved the way for her, and the younger officers' easy acceptance of him widened to include her. The dinner hour passed quickly in a flurry of relaxed banter.

Tom stood, collecting his tray. "I have to go," he said. "Gotta meet B'Elanna before we go to the holodeck." He turned to the older couple. "A group of us are going water-skiing in an hour," he said. "Why don't you two come along?"

Kathryn looked doubtful. "I don't know," she said. "I've never water-skied."

"C'mon, Kathryn," Harry egged her on. "It's easy. And B'Elanna's never done it before either."

"I'll catch you if you fall." Kolopak's warm eyes conveyed a message about more than water-skiing. 'You're not the captain,' he was telling her. 'It's all right to be human.'

"Okay." She capitulated quickly. "We'll see you there."

She didn't have a swimsuit of course; the serviceable item that used to be hers was tucked away in one of Janeway's drawers, long forgotten. She replicated a plain one-piece, but in a moment of weakness added a low back that showed off her shoulders and drew attention to the swell of her buttocks.

Kolopak watched her try it on, then pressed her back against the desk in their quarters, taking her mouth with a needy hunger. She pressed herself to him, wanting more. He drew down the thin strap of the suit to lave a nipple. "You're beautiful," he whispered against her skin. He grasped her buttocks to align her more closely to his body.

"The holodeck," she murmured, even as she arched into his caress. "We'll do this later."

"Later," he said, releasing her slowly. "It's a promise."

She felt self-conscious on the holodeck, stripping off her wrap to reveal the plain swimsuit. She was older than these people and had never possessed an easy acceptance of her body, always being aware of its deficiencies when compared to those around her. But Kolopak's gaze warmed her, and gave her the will to remove the robe. After all, she had never done this as captain. With relief she saw that the others were discussing the double wooden water-skis and weren't paying any attention. Except for Tom.

"Nice...suit," he said and winked.

Instantly she felt more at ease. She laughed. "Right," she agreed, and went to join the others as they discussed the best way to assemble the clumsy wooden skis and bindings.

There was an awkward moment when she automatically slipped into captain mode and her suggestions on fastening the bindings took on the tinge of an order. Kolopak diffused it, laughingly pointing out to her, Harry, and Sam Wildman -- who had both automatically started following her instructions -- that doing it her way would have the bindings on backwards.

"You're not the captain, love." He whispered the words almost apologetically into her hair as his arms tightened around her waist.

"I know." Her shoulders drooped momentarily, then she twisted to face him. "As captain I wouldn't be having this much fun." Her lips brushed his lightly.

"Hey," Tom called from across the dock. "Cut that out you two. Save it for later."

Kolopak released her slowly. "Later," he whispered.

She touched his cheek gently. "Yes, love. Later."

***


It was strange to know so much about another person. Kolopak knew instinctively that Chakotay would refuse a third glass of wine, citing early duty tomorrow. He hadn't had to wonder about his dinner companion's taste in food either. Mushroom risotto, one of their favorite dishes, made a simple and enjoyable meal. The dinner was his idea; he wanted to explore his relationship with his twin, delve deep into their collective psyche and figure out where they were different and where they were the same. Eventually, if Chakotay was agreeable, he intended suggesting a joint vision quest.

He had suggested to Kathryn that she take the opportunity to build a closer relationship with her double, but she had been reluctant, saying that she felt that Janeway needed more time to come to terms with the idea first. She said she would eat in the mess hall with Tom and B'Elanna and maybe join them for coffee later.

The split quarters were cramped and messy. Kolopak could see Chakotay looking around, although the man was trying to be unobtrusive about it. When his gaze fell upon Kathryn's robe, slung casually over the back of a chair, it froze momentarily before moving on. Kolopak cursed silently to himself; he hadn't wanted to remind his twin of everything he had that Chakotay didn't.

The two men had shared an easy evening of conversation; now in the flicker of Chakotay's eyes away from the robe and the implications behind it, there was an uneasy tension in the air.

Chakotay broke it finally, swirling the dregs of his wine around in his glass. "I envy you," he said quietly. "But you know that. You have the woman we love without the constraints of her position. Can I ask..." he was hesitant. "Can I ask what it's like? Is it everything I always thought it would be?"

Kolopak weighed his answer, wondering if he would cause more pain by relating how perfect it was, how wonderful she was. To tell too how soul-shattering was the lovemaking, the simple bliss of lying with her every night, his arms around her, his lips in her hair, his to touch, his to pleasure, his to love. But he had to be honest. His twin would know a lie. "It's more," he said. "She loves me, so much, more than I ever dared to hope. She's giving, passionate, unselfish. The greatest happiness of my life is lying in her arms after loving her."

Chakotay nodded. "I thought so." The words had a wistful quality to them, and the hesitation alerted Kolopak to the fact that there was more to come. He waited.

"Did she tell you I kissed her?" Chakotay met his eyes with a trace of sheepish embarrassment. "It was when I went to your quarters to get the padds, she came out of the shower; she thought I was you and kissed me. At first I tried to stop her, then, for a moment I couldn't help myself; I kissed her back. I'm sorry."

Kolopak was amazed at the surge of jealousy. He trusted this man with his life and he trusted him with Kathryn. What hurt him was the knowledge that for however briefly, Kathryn had thought that Chakotay was him. But he had the world and this man had only the knowledge that the end was worth the running. He could afford to be generous.

"I understand," he said, and found that in saying the words, that he did understand, as he knew that if he had been Chakotay he would have done the same. He wanted to give him something, so he said, "She's worth the wait.. And never doubt that she doesn't love you -- she loves you more than I think you imagine." For a moment his words brought back the previous night -- Kathryn lying in his arms, shaking with emotion, the tremors of orgasm fading from her body, tears on her cheeks as she held his head to her breast and told him over and over how much she loved him. Her desperation had worried him -- for a brief moment he wondered if Janeway had convinced her to end this -- but no, she reassured him, she loved him. She would never leave.

"Never leave..." he didn't realize he had spoken aloud, as caught up as he was in his reverie. "Sorry," he smiled sheepishly. "That wasn't directed at you."

"I know. I hope one day that I'll get what I want as well. But it seems it's getting further away, not closer. Kathryn -- my Kathryn -- won't discuss you two. She clams up and changes the subject." Chakotay looked down at his hands. "That's when she even makes any time for me at all. And that's when I wonder why I persevere."

Kolopak reached out a hand towards his twin. "I can't tell you what to do," he said. "I just know how happy I am now."

"I'll wait for her. You know that I will. I was hoping to use your example to sway her somewhat, but if anything it's made it worse. She's changed since the split -- so much that I wonder if there was more to the accident than we know."

When Kathryn returned later, she found the two of them on the couch, deep in conversation. Kolopak waited to see if she would know which was him; out of uniform, there were no rank bar or pips to distinguish them. She didn't hesitate, crossing over to the couch where he sat, a quick squeeze of his shoulder and a brush of fingertips over his cheek.

"Hello, love." She lowered herself to the couch at his side. "I missed you." Another brief press of her fingers against his as she said, "Hello, Chakotay. Did the two of you have a good dinner?"

Kolopak returned her brief caress and moved to fetch her a glass of wine. "Very good." He returned to sit beside her and her hand rose to its accustomed place on the inner surface of his thigh, lightly caressing.

"Who did you eat with?" He captured her stroking hand and held it pressed against his leg. The meandering stimulation was too distracting.

She shot a look towards Chakotay, as if the answer affected him somehow. "I ate with the captain. But it probably wasn't a good idea. She seemed very uncomfortable being with me. She was sitting alone when I entered the mess hall and I thought she might enjoy some company." There was an unease in her tone as she related the events -- as if she felt it reflected on her. "She looked so lonely," she said softly.

Kolopak saw Chakotay studying her intently. "Give her time, Kathryn," he said. "She's not very comfortable with this."

Kathryn's mouth twisted slightly in remembrance. "She practically snubbed me," she admitted. "I sat with her. She called me 'Commander'. She barely spoke to me. I wanted to see how she felt about the two of us, but she just shut down when I broached the subject." She sighed softly, a whisper of sound in the dimly lit room. "If she can't be friends with herself, who can she be friends with?"

***


"That will be all, Commander." Janeway crisply dismissed Chakotay once he finished giving his report.

"Actually, that's not all, Kathryn." Chakotay noticed Janeway's head rise up slightly at the use of her given name. "I was wondering if you would have dinner with me tonight? We haven't had any time together for a long time."

"Another time, Chakotay. I think I'd prefer a quiet evening. " She turned away again, in a clear dismissal.

"You've had a few 'quiet evenings' of late," he said in reasonable tones. "I thought you might like to talk about whatever it is that is bothering you." He knew of course. He'd seen the veiled look in her eyes as she unobtrusively watched Kolopak and Kathryn in the mess hall. Seen the last remnants of the woman he'd loved on New Earth disappear into a captain's facade, so brittle that he wondered how much more she could take before it shattered. He wanted to make it right for her, but anything he did seemed to make it worse. It was as if she felt she had to freeze him out in a public display of indifference to counter the open warm closeness between their doubles.

He walked up behind her and stood so close that had she turned around they would have been in an embrace. "Don't freeze me out, Kathryn. If it's the crew's reaction you are worried about, keeping things normal between us would be the better way."

"I don't know what you mean." Since when had her voice been so cold? Gone were the warm, rich tones, a hint of silk sheets and bedroom promises; the flirtatious sultry tone she reserved for him alone replaced by the sort of steel underlay she normally used for difficult diplomatic negotiations. Which maybe this was, in her mind. She was negotiating her life back onto an even keel.

He took the bull by the horns. "Well then, if you don't know what I mean, why are you avoiding me lately? It's worse than when we first returned from New Earth."

The hiss of indrawn breath told him that he had struck a nerve, but he plunged ahead regardless. "And since the transporter accident you've gone out of your way to avoid me. Well, I'm not going anywhere. And I'll expect you for dinner at 1900 hours." He gentled his voice, "Please come, Kathryn." The words 'I miss you' stuck in his throat. He could say them later -- if she came . Her back was still towards him, her shoulders slightly hunched.

"Will you come?" He touched her shoulder and turned her slightly towards him. The frozen look of loneliness on her face made him want to take her in his arms and draw her head down to his shoulder. Just to hold her. He thought she would refuse, but she only nodded, once, jerkily as if she didn't trust her voice. He didn't push his luck. He left.

She came late of course, and in uniform, but he had been half expecting her to call and cancel. She prowled with stiff gait around his quarters, picking up his few ornaments and putting them down, items she had seen many times before. In happier times, closer times, he had told her about each one, placed them in her hands and told her the stories behind them.

"Here." He handed her a glass of wine and gestured her over to the table. "Sit, relax, talk to me."

She gave him a look, not quite a glare, but falling far short of her normal wide smile.

"Kathryn..." Taking back the glass he had just handed her, he took her clenched fists and led her over to the couch under the viewport instead. He sat, forcing her to sit as well, or risk an undignified pulling away of her hands. He started relating a funny story he'd heard from B'Elanna about a practical joke Joe Carey had pulled on Susan Nicoletti. The sort of story that would be circulated in the mess hall for years to come, but one that wouldn't normally be told to the captain. It worked. She grinned at the punchline and countered with a story of her own from cadet days.

A bottle of wine later, Chakotay relaxed back into the couch. Dinner was a success; he felt he had succeeded in his small objective of at least letting Kathryn be herself around him. The thorny subject of Kolopak and Kathryn still had to be raised, and he was reluctant to break the easy mood of the evening, but he couldn't let the opportunity pass. Like it or not, they were here, on this ship, blending in well with the crew and pulling their weight. And they were also open in their love for one another. The captain's quarters had never been partitioned; Kolopak and Kathryn shared the cramped half space, the other side of the wall from where they now sat.

Chakotay raised the subject he most wanted to talk about in a roundabout way. "I've been thinking of letting Kolopak and Kathryn have my entire quarters. The two of them have slightly less space than this." He waved a hand around his side of the partitioned room. "Two commanders should be allocated better quarters."

Kathryn's lips immediately pursed into a sour line. In the shifting of the moment as he said the words, the relaxed woman he had been laughing with over dinner disappeared. "The first officer shouldn't have to give up his quarters," she said.

"There are suitable quarters for me available," he said. "They are smaller than this, but I think it's fair that the two of them take the bigger area." He refilled her glass. "Look on the bright side. With the two of them moving in together it means that you don't have to split your living area."

There was no reply. Her fingers clenched so tightly on the stem of the glass that he feared it would shatter. "Kathryn... careful of my best crystal." Gently he unwound her fingers from the glass and put it down on the table. She pulled back her hand as soon as it was free.

"Can we talk about this?" he asked. "Tell me what is bothering you about them. And don't say, 'nothing' since something obviously is."

The silence stretched for so long that he thought she was going to ignore him. Then she started talking. The words were low, deeply felt, and she spoke them jerkily, as if by voicing them she was acknowledging the emotion for the first time. And perhaps she was.

"She's flaunting her relationship with Kolopak to the crew. And it makes a mockery of everything I've upheld over the past few years. These two people spring instantly into the world, and they have our personalities and our emotions, and immediately they're all over each other. And the crew looks at them and sees you and me. And so they know that..." She faltered to a stop, and the horrified look in her eyes told him that she had already said more than she meant to.

"They know what, Kathryn?"

She shook her head. "They judge us by their standards."

He let her reassembled comment pass. "They don't. I think after the first week or so most of the crew was comfortable with them as separate individuals. They are forming their own friendships."

"And they are lovers." She spat the words out. "Do you think I don't know that people are now watching you and me? Waiting for us to become what they already are? The two of them are affecting my reputation."

"Your reputation? Is that all you are concerned about?" He let a little of his impatience show. "Your personal happiness, which already takes second place to protocol, your captaincy, and Starfleet, is now also a secondary consideration to your reputation?" He took a deep breath; he was now in so deep that he thought he couldn't make things worse. "Shall I tell you what really bothers you about Kolopak and Kathryn? There are two things. Kathryn has a freedom you think you don't have -- she can form friendships, indulge her passion for science and she can take a lover. And the other thing? Because the two of them are living proof of what you won't let yourself admit, even to yourself..."

"Stop..." she said. "Please don't go on."

Something in her voice alerted him to the fact that finally, he had reached her. She was sitting motionless on the couch, her face frozen in an expression he couldn't define -- he who thought he could read every nuance of Kathryn Janeway's mood from his years of watching her. His brief flash of anger melted away in the face of her uncharacteristic vulnerability.

"Kathryn." She wouldn't meet his eyes. Gently he tilted her chin up towards him. "The crew knows that I've loved you for a long time. Is it so hard for you to admit that you love me?"

He waited, his hand on her chin. If she refused to admit it now, when she had nothing to lose and everything to gain, then he didn't know if she ever would. His pulse thundered in his ears and with each beat of silence his hope faded.

With a shivering sigh the tension left her body. Her hand came up and covered his, lacing her fingers with his. "You know I love you." The admission didn't have the emotion he would have liked, but it was a start. Her tones were matter-of-fact. "However, I don't see what admitting it achieves. Nothing's changed. I'm still the captain, you're still a member of my crew. We haven't suddenly turned into Kolopak and Kathryn, able to put ourselves first."

"Not first," he readily admitted, " but we can put ourselves somewhere in the equation. Look at Kol and Kathryn..." he smiled wryly at her indrawn breath. "Okay, so you know what I'm going to say. I'm saying that they work today and love together and no one thinks any less of them. You can combine the woman and the captain, Kathryn. If you let yourself try."

He stroked his thumb over the back of their linked hands. "I'm putting you on notice. I'm not going to ask that you be with me until you are ready, I'm not going to seduce you into my bed, but I am telling you that I love you, and that it's a long journey home. And no one wants you to spend it alone. And when you let yourself, I'll be there for you. Can you accept that from me?"

She weighed up her answer. "All right. But I can't promise you anything. Not now, not for the future."

"I know." His smile was soft, but his heart was pounding so loudly that he would have sworn she could hear it too. She had told him she loved him. For that declaration alone, the preceding months of bitter loneliness was worth it. She said she loved him -- words were so much harder than actions for Kathryn, and he was a patient man. He would wait for her. And one day she would come to him. "But I will promise you something," he said. "I promise to be here for you, and not to give up on you, and I hope that one day, when the time is right, you'll come to my bed."

He saw her pupils dilate slightly as the impact of his words reached her. No, he wasn't wrong; she wanted him too, she was not immune. There still was a woman's needs and passion buried in there; it was up to him to show her that woman and captain could co-exist. The thought of loving his Kathryn, having her under him, driving into her body, or her on top of him, her hair falling over his face, made him weak. A brief wave of envy of Kol swept over him again. Kol loved his Kathryn every night. He often heard them through the wall, heard the murmurs, the sighs, her gasps -- another reason for him to move quarters -- the vicarious thrill he had first felt was negated by the torment of his imagination. Because he was hearing his Kathryn's response to lovemaking too -- that he was sure of -- and hearing what it could be like made him shake. It wasn't just the physical intimacy he wanted -- oh, it was a big part of it -- but it was mainly the closeness and the sharing. He wanted to express his love openly like Kol did.

Kathryn was watching him, a slight smile on her face, as if she could read his thoughts. "One question, Chakotay. If you could swap places with him, and be with her, would you?"

The answer was simple and from the heart. "No," he said. "She belongs with Kol. I belong with you." And he shuffled forward on the couch, lifted a hand to the nape of her neck and drew her to him, enough so that their lips met, moved softly together for a moment before he withdrew.

"And you belong with me," he said.

***


Kathryn wondered if Janeway's antipathy towards her ran deeper than she knew. It was a quiet bridge shift, but in the preceding six hours, Janeway had checked her calculations four times and reprimanded her once for joking with Tom. She kept her face calm and professional, but inwardly she was hurting. Janeway would know that the calculations were correct -- such a public demonstration of her doubt in Kathryn's abilities accomplished nothing. She could see from Chakotay's face that he wasn't happy with the captain's behavior either, but she knew that he was treading a finer line than she, trying to weave his way through the captain's defenses to find the friend he once had.

When Janeway stood at her shoulder for the second time in an hour, scrolling through the calculations, she couldn't take it any more. This woman had been her once -- surely that gave her some insight into the way her mind worked, even if they seemed to have diverged so completely in the weeks since the split. If one of them didn't make some attempt to reconcile, then the mistrust and antipathy would surely spread further through the ship. They had made their original decision over who would fill what positions on the ship based mainly out of a mutual desire to do what was best for Voyager. Kathryn told herself that she did this now for the same unselfish reasons, but really, she knew she wanted to try and reach her twin.

"Captain, may I speak with you for a moment?"

The quick flicker across Janeway's features told her that she had some inkling of the conversation to come. She nodded. "My ready room."

As the door closed behind her, Kathryn watched Janeway take up the defensive position behind her desk. "What is it?" Her voice indicated that she wasn't going to make this easy.

She opted for the formal. "Captain, I feel that I'm still proving myself and my abilities to you. You know my skills and weaknesses better than anyone, yet you still check my work as if I were a first year ensign. If you don't mind me saying, it undermines my position -- and yours -- on this crew."

"You are a new crewman." Kathryn noticed she avoided using either first name or rank. "I'm checking your work as I would anyone's who joined this ship."

"You know it's unnecessary." Kathryn strove to keep her voice even.

"I can't be seen to treat you any differently, just because you were me...once."

"You don't check Kolopak's work."

"That's different. I can hardly sit in on his counseling sessions."

"It is different," Kathryn agreed at once, "but not that radically. I rather think, Kathryn," she used the captain's name deliberately, "that once again you are being harder on yourself than those around you. You like to trust people -- you pride yourself on being able to judge people swiftly and well -- and you let your crew know that you trust them implicitly. But you are not allowing me that trust."

Janeway sucked in a breath, "Commander, I don't think that this is the time or the place for this discussion."

"Then name the time and I'll be there. You've been avoiding me, Kathryn. And I know why -- you want to dissociate yourself from me and my actions. But you don't have to. I think the crew accepts that I'm different enough from you to follow my own path in certain things. They don't judge you by my actions." She placed her hands on the desk. "Kathryn, I am hoping we can still be friends. Kolopak too - he wants that as well. And Chakotay has always been there for you. We always knew that."

Kathryn searched the captain's face for some wavering of intent. Some softening of the shell that housed her previous personality. "Can't you be as fair to yourself as you are to the rest of the crew?"

The silence stretched for a beat. "You're right." Janeway's tones were resigned. "I haven't been fair to you. I'm... sorry."

Kathryn knew what the admission cost her and stretched out an impulsive hand. "Thank you."

Janeway nodded once, sharply and seemed about to say more, but stopped herself.

Kathryn watched her dilemma. "You know," she said. "I've got something you want badly, but you've got something I want equally badly. The difference is what you want is yours for the taking. I'll never get my desire." In answer to Janeway's lifted eyebrow, she lightly touched the captain's pips on her twin's collar. "I miss them. And I can't have them. In case you've wondered, science is... good. But it's not enough. But you can have it all - Chakotay still loves you." She left quickly, not wanting to see the expression on the captain's face.

***


Kathryn entered their quarters at the end of her shift. Chakotay had relinquished his entire quarters to her and Kolopak a few months ago, and she had to admit that the extra space was very welcome. She kicked her boots off -- she had long ago stopped wearing the heels that she had adopted to give herself more of a command presence, and her feet no longer ached as much at the end of the day -- but she retained the habit of shedding her boots as soon as she entered her quarters. She left them lying in the middle of the floor. It irked her to do it, but it seemed pointless to put them away. Kol would be back soon, and much as she hated to admit it, the man was a total slob. His clothes littered their quarters, his boots were often lying in the middle of the floor, and padds covered every available surface. How he maintained such immaculate personal grooming when he lived in such chaos was beyond her. She made a half-hearted attempt to tidy up, stacking the padds, and moving the more obtrusive pieces of clothing. She was in the bedroom, smoothing the rumpled nest of their bed when she heard Kol come in.

"Kathryn?" He appeared in the doorway to the sleeping quarters and held out his arms.

She moved into them, letting him enfold her closely, reaching up to kiss him, letting his warmly tender kiss soothe away the frustrations of the day. He kissed her lingeringly, his tongue slipping slowly in and out of her mouth, his hands stroking down her back. She kissed him back, letting the petty irritations that had threatened to overwhelm her fade. Kolopak radiated calm and contentment. She hoped it would rub off on her.

"Good day, love?" He still held her close, resting his chin on the top of her head.

She recollected her annoyances of the day; being out of replicator rations for coffee, Seven's unreasonable demands for assistance in Astrometrics and then her stubborn belief that her way was the only way to proceed and the captain siding with her. Missing lunch. And most of all, the irrational annoyance that she was excluded from a senior staff meeting. She knew that a discussion about the weapons array didn't concern her, but somehow she felt she should have been included. After all, she was once the captain.

Kolopak's happy demeanor was suddenly irritating. "It would have been better if I didn't have to come in here and pick up all your dirty clothes from the floor," she snapped.

His wounded look fueled her anger further. "You don't have to, love," he said. "I'll do it."

"But you don't. You just leave them."

"I didn't realize it annoyed you that much," Kol said mildly. He moved away from her and started to pick up his clothes.

She watched him move around their quarters, tidying up his things and hers without complaint. Irrational tears pricked the back of her eyes. Dear Kol. And here she was, taking her bad day out on him as if they were an old and crotchety married couple. She acknowledged silently to herself that there had been a few too many such days over the past few months. She moved over to the viewport and stared blindly out at the kaleidoscope of stars.

"Kathryn?" He had moved up behind her on silent feet, and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Tell me what's wrong. This isn't really about my clothes, is it?"

She shook her head. "No... it's not about you." She turned to him and wrapped her arms around his comforting solidity. "I'm sorry. I'm just cranky. Hard day at the office, I guess."

He smiled at her feeble joke and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "You've had a few of those lately."

She looked up into his face. He smiled down at her, but she caught the faint echo of worry in his eyes. She knew what that meant; his underlying edge of fear that he wasn't enough for her, that he couldn't make her happy. She closed her eyes momentarily. She had reassured him in the past that he was everything she wanted and needed on a personal level. She couldn't love him more. But he couldn't give back to her what was missing from her life. And that was the unalterable paradox.

Thoughts of Janeway entered her head. The two of them had formed a tentative friendship of sorts, an uneasy alliance forged after their confrontation in the ready room, that had been strengthened by shared meals in the mess hall, and on a couple of occasions dinner shared with Kol and Chakotay. The two men had no such problems with their own friendship, and their easy acceptance of each other had made Janeway and Kathryn's guarded reactions seem faintly melodramatic. But what brought home her own vague dissatisfaction with her life was that now, Janeway seemed to be in the position of accepting that she could have it all. She and Chakotay appeared to be tentatively forming a deeper personal relationship. Kol stated emphatically that they weren't lovers yet, saying cryptically that he would know when it happened from Chakotay's expressions. Kathryn tended to agree with Kol; she didn't think the pair had taken the final step of physical expression yet, but she doubted her ability to read the event from Janeway's reactions.

But she couldn't stave off the unjustified feeling that Janeway shouldn't have this. In uncompromising black and white, the fates had decided that she could take a lover and Janeway could captain a starship. To shift the boundaries and definitions seemed...unfair.

"I love you," she said to Kolopak, although at that moment it was as much an affirmation for herself as for him.

"I know you do," he said quietly. His hands came up and began unwinding the loose knot of her hair, smoothing the russet strands over her shoulders as if his gesture would simplify their lives, much as he untangled her hair. "But I know you're not content."

She sucked in a silent breath; so much for hiding this from him. To complain about her position seemed so petty; after all, they had been handed an opportunity for personal happiness in exchange and she supposed she should be content.

"Tell me," he invited.

"I miss command," she said simply. "I miss not making the split second decisions, being involved with people. Science is fascinating, it always has been, but much of it is so routine. No adrenaline rush. No buzz of knowing I made a good choice, one that saved lives or simply made things better for someone in some way." She made a moue of frustration. "And I miss being out of the loop of engineering, operations, hell, even the messhall. I miss the overall picture..." Her words trailed off. "I'm not explaining myself too well..."

"No. I understand," Kolopak moved away from her and started shedding his uniform. Absently she noted that he was careful to fold it and put it away. "But Kathryn, you're saying you want to be captain again. No other position on board carries that weight of overall responsibility."

"I know." Her voice was resigned. "There is only one captain. And that is what I find hardest to accept."

He crossed back to her and took her shoulders, his thumbs making small circles on her uniform. "Let me give it some thought. Maybe some small changes could be made to accommodate you. After all, you have knowledge and experience beyond what you are currently utilizing."

"You make a wonderful ship's counselor," she said. Dropping her head she kissed his chest, wrapping her hands around his back. But inside her, she knew that small changes wouldn't help. Kolopak was right; she just had to learn to live with this.

***


Janeway rang the chime on Chakotay's quarters. Dinner with him, a weekly event now, and not a working dinner. Time to learn each other again, tentative forays, probing deeper than their previous close friendship. A chance to learn the man again, not just the first officer. An opportunity for quiet conversation, food and wine that tasted the better for the growing intimacy. And time for a kiss. It had grown and evolved the kiss, since Chakotay's first soft press of lips, so many weeks ago. It now was longer, lingering, a fusion of lips and tongues and a press of bodies together. But it was still just a kiss.

She thought it ironic in many ways. She was no virgin; this was not the outraged hesitation of propriety. She knew this man so well, but still she vacillated over the act of taking him into her body. Becoming his lover. She was behaving, she knew, as if sex was something sacred. Stupid, as casual, no-strings sex was something she had enjoyed in the past -- but she knew instinctively that if Chakotay and she made love, then it would be binding and it would be forever. And that knowledge slowed her rush and made her want to ease into the physical side slowly, one caress at a time.

Chakotay, she knew, understood her hesitation. He had no such doubts, and she was grateful that he didn't push her. Instead he waited, sure in his belief that one day she would come to him.

And she would. Just not tonight.

Dinner was the same enjoyable meal it always was these days. Soft lighting aiding the slow slide into intimacy. Fingers brushing in the exchange of glasses and plates. The warm bulk of Chakotay's body next to hers on the couch afterwards, his arm wrapped around her shoulder, his fingers lightly stroking her arm. How easy it would be to turn to him, raise her mouth to his and let her hands slide over his body, burrow under his clothing. How compelling to let him remove her clothing, piece by piece and skate his hands over her body. Ridiculously simple to let his mouth meander over her pleasure points, and then shock him into startled joy by taking him in her mouth. And how seductive the thought of lying with him. Loving with him. Waking with him.

And she would. Just not tonight.

She took her leave at midnight, accepting his kiss, returning it with an edge of hunger she had previously kept in check. He noticed of course, and deepened it subtly, his hands daring to move down her back to her buttocks, pressing her into him, subsuming her into the kiss. She wondered if he knew the effort it took to leave.

***


Kolopak was highly enthusiastic about Modoc, a lightly populated planet with an openly friendly race of humanoids. Initially, the brief was a simple trade negotiation; foodstuffs, maybe a couple of items from B'Elanna's engineering wish list. He had transported down as normal with the first away team. His first contact skills, and subtle art of negotiation meant that he often secured Voyager's needs quickly and easily. After the third day though, his evening conversation was about more than foodstuffs.

"It's a beautiful planet, Kathryn." His eyes glowed with enthusiasm for the alien landscape. "There's two distinct climatic zones, one reminded me of Arizona -- arid for most of the year but with a short, sharp wet season. The other is more temperate, like, well... like Indiana." "I know which one you liked best." She nudged him from her position sprawled over his chest.

"Yes." She could sense his grin, even if she couldn't see it. "But the temperate zone is beautiful too. Very fertile. Ninety percent of their foodstuffs come from there, as well as forest products."

"Did they show you both regions?"

"Yes. I wanted to scan the vegetables they offered at the source, so they took myself and Ayala down there." He rubbed her back as he spoke. "They have a very efficient agricultural system. A fairly basic crop rotation that ensures that the soil doesn't deplete itself of essential nutrients. And a strict limit on the number of crops that can be planted before a fallow season. Wait until you taste their equivalent of tomatoes..."

"As good as Talaxian tomatoes?" she teased. It was good to hear Kolopak's enthusiasm.

"Better! But don't tell Neelix."

They shared a companionable chuckle, then Kolopak spoke again, but this time there was a serious timbre to his voice. "Not everything is perfect down there. They have fledgling warp technology, and a high standard of medical care, but their knowledge of surrounding space is limited. They want to know more, but they lack the skilled personnel to develop a program of space exploration."

"Maybe it's not a priority to them," she suggested.

"No, they know they need it." There was an indefinable edge to his voice. "But they don't know where to start." His hand started to inch its way under the loose top that she wore, to stroke the soft skin where waist met hip. "You should come down tomorrow. They are offering us a tour of their space exploration facility. Could be just the thing to get a restless science officer off the ship."

She moaned slightly into his chest, as his hand pushed its way craftily under the waistband of her pants. "Who do I have to sleep with to get on the away team?"

"You already sleep with him." He rolled her over and claimed her mouth, pushing his tongue insistently between her parted lips. "I'll add you to tomorrow's team."

***


Kathryn transported down with the second team. Herself, Sam Wildman, and Seven. The scientific nerds, as Tom had jokingly called them. Kolopak was on the first team, with Harry, Ayala, and Ensign C'Aldera. The first team was still involved in food collection; the second team was to tour the fledgling exploration facility. Janeway had given cautious permission for them to involve themselves in a low-key manner. The Modocans had the technology already, they were just inefficient in its use.

The Modocans were friendly, and their fumbling explanations as to why the technology was sitting unused were almost apologetic. "Two generations ago, Commander, our planet's tectonics weren't as stable as they are now. Our funds, our best scientists, and the majority of our resources went into developing seismic monitors and a system to stabilize the fault lines. We succeeded, but other areas of research suffered."

Kathryn took a look at one of the data consoles. 'May I?" She looked to the Modocan in charge of their tour for permission. He nodded his consent, and she opened the consoles, accessing the star charts. "These are less complete than our own," she mused. "Maybe we can assist you here in filling in some of the blanks."

Seven was at another console. "Commander, here are incomplete schematics for shuttlecraft and a longer range exploratory vessel."

"Yes. The vessel was conceived for exploratory missions lasting on average five to seven years. But we lack suitably qualified personnel for the mission." The lean face of the Modocan looked mournful. "In time, we hope to train the young of our race, but it is hard. We have let so much knowledge slip through our fingers with the passing of time."

Sam was exclaiming over the medical reference files she had pulled up. "Commander, there is much here that the Doctor would be interested in. This would be a valuable addition to Voyager's database."

Kathryn looked thoughtful. "Maybe we can be of assistance to each other."

Janeway not only gave permission for an exchange of information, but when she transported down herself, she authorized two teams to work with the Modocans in a teaching capacity. Over the next few days, Kathryn hardly saw Kolopak. She was busy figuring out the Modocan systems and schematics and overseeing the relay of information gained. Kolopak spent much of his time indulging his passion for anthropology and was learning much about the culture and traditions of their new friends. They would each separately return to their quarters, often very late, more often than not to find the other in bed, asleep.

One morning, six days into their time on Modoc, Kolopak caught her hand as she was leaving in the morning. She broke off relating how they had hacked into an encrypted database containing more ship's schematics to stare at him. "What is it, love?"

"Let's both come home early tonight," he said. "It's been many days since we've had a chance to share a meal and talk."

She reached up to kiss him. "Mmmmm, and just as long since we made love."

His lips were soft against her mouth. "That too. It's a date then."

They both made it back to the ship early enough for dinner, but ended up eating in the mess hall with B'Elanna and Tom. Kathryn wanted to pick B'Elanna's brains on some of the schematics for shuttlecraft they had found in the Modocan database. Her reasoning was twofold; she wanted her opinion as to whether the modified design was fuel-efficient, and secondly she was wondering if it could be incorporated into any of Voyager's shuttles.

B'Elanna's eyes glowed with the new challenge. "Yes and yes," she said, scrolling through the padd while her dinner went cold. Tom, sitting next to her, winked at them and continued eating off her plate, picking out the edible parts of Neelix's casserole. B'Elanna continued to expand upon the Modocan design, making notes while she absently forked up her congealing dinner.

She wound to a halt eventually and stared in a bemused fashion at her plate, before pushing it aside. "I don't know how I ate so much of that stuff," she said. "It's almost entirely leola root."

Kathryn burst out laughing. "You had a little help," she said, gesturing to Tom, who adopted a wounded, innocent look.

"You didn't seem to be hungry," he said. "And the mushroom type things were rather good."

B'Elanna glared at the pair of them, then turned to Kolopak. "You didn't stop them. You're supposed to be my friend."

"No, Chakotay is," said Kol, straight-faced.

B'Elanna looked totally astounded for one moment, then laughed. "Guess I know who my friends are on board," she said. "For that, friend, you can come and help me carry dessert." She rose, dragging Kolopak with her and they headed back to the food line.

Alone at the table, Tom turned to Kathryn. "If you don't mind me saying so," he began tentatively, " you've been looking a little less harried of late. Working on Modoc must agree with you. That or good sex."

"Definitely the sex," she said straight-faced.

"No, seriously. I know we've hardly seen you this past week, but in spite of the workload, you've got more enthusiasm about you now than you've had in the past weeks on the bridge."

"Jockeying for the role as ship's counselor?" She said the words lightly, but she sensed that his motive was sincere.

"No." The grin was trademark Tom Paris. "Just looking out for a friend."

"I guess you're right in a way," she said. "It's a fascinating project, looking through another culture's research database, piecing together mysteries about alien shuttles, environmental problems, engine specifications. It encompasses more than science actually, it's more of a rounded project, that ties together so many things."

"More of a challenge then." Tom grinned. "More than probing anomalies?"

"Different. More of a challenge than beating you at pool."

"Kathryn! Not fair. It was a close match last time."

"If you call five of your balls left on the table, 'close', then yes, it was."

"What's the game score with the captain these days?" Tom deftly drew the conversation away from his less-than stellar pool playing record.

"Fifteen to fourteen, she leads by one game." Kathryn grinned into her coffee. "Soon to be fifteen all."

Kolopak and B'Elanna arrived back at the table bearing bowls of dessert, but only B'Elanna sat.

"Let's take this back to our quarters, love." Kol smiled down at her. "We did promise ourselves a quiet evening."

She stood. "We did," she agreed. "Thanks for looking at the specs, B'Elanna. Tom, why don't you practice your pool game? See if you can leave only four balls on the table the next time we play?"

"Sure thing, Kathryn." Tom was already halfway through his dessert bowl and had half an eye on B'Elanna's. "Tomorrow?"

"If I get away from Modoc in time, you're on."

Inside their quarters she turned to Kol. "Do you really want to eat dessert? Or did you want to..." She let her hand trail down his uniform suggestively.

"Dessert," he said. "I've a suggestion to make."

She chuckled. "Your last suggestion was very creative. My thighs ached all the next day."

"Not that sort of suggestion." He was serious in the face of her teasing. "But one I hope you'll give equal consideration to."

"Oh? Should I be worried?"

"Not worried. But I hope you'll listen." He sat on the couch, his dessert bowl forgotten. "Love, you like working on Modoc, don't you? You've been happier in your work the last few days, you've been enjoying the challenges."

"Yes." She was puzzled, wondering exactly where this was leading. She sat down next to him and started spooning the dessert into her mouth. "This isn't bad, you know. Bit like butterscotch."

"Kathryn, do you like it enough to stay here?"

Her spoon froze, midway to her mouth as she looked at him in disbelief. "Stay? You mean, live there? Leave Voyager? Never get home to Earth?" She was shaking her head, even as she voiced the words.

"Yes. That's exactly what I mean. Hear me out before you refuse."

She searched his face, to see if this was some bizarre idea of a joke, but his eyes were intent, his expression serious. She was abruptly reminded of the last time her life had taken such a tangential shift, when she realized that Kolopak hadn't minded the transporter accident as he had swiftly realized the spread of new opportunities before them.

She put the bowl down, and settled back on the couch. "I'm listening."

Now that he had her full attention, he seemed reluctant to begin. He picked up her hand, stroking lightly over the back of it. "Ishi told me today that they are going to revive their space exploration program. It seems that your work has convinced them it is possible. Enthusiasm is high among the Modocans and now that the tectonics are stable, they are more outward-looking." He took a deep breath, as if he was bracing himself for her reaction. "Kathryn, Ishi wondered if we would be interested in staying on to lead the project."

She found she didn't know what to say. Her instincts were to adamantly turn down the offer, but she knew that Kol would have weighed it heavily before saying anything to her. He was watching her, his face hopeful. He hadn't said what his feelings were, but she knew from his face and his carefully neutral question that he wanted to stay.

The seconds stretched and she found she was no closer to answering him than she was when he asked. Dissociation. This wasn't her, Kathryn Janeway, sitting on the couch seriously considering the offer. It must be someone else. Kathryn Janeway would never consider settling somewhere that wasn't Earth. Would never cheerfully relinquish all hope of seeing her mother, her sister, family and friends again, the dearer for their absence in her life. She turned the idea over in her mind. She was an explorer first, and she felt herself to be a leader. This opportunity offered both, but it also scythed its way incisively through everything she had held to be her focus and goal in life. Kol was capable of making such swift and pivotal decisions, more so than she. Oh, she could make command decisions, life and death ones in the blink of an eye, but in her personal life she trod more cautiously, weighing pros and cons, opportunities and drawbacks. She would need to think.

But it tantalizingly held out the promise of something she could believe in. Somewhere to be needed and to make a difference. She knew that she and Kol were needed and appreciated on Voyager, but this was alluringly different. A shiny new penny held out for her inspection.

He was looking at her, his eyes flickering to and fro over her face, trying to gauge her reaction. He must have seen something there that spurred him on. "Come down tomorrow with me, instead of your work crew," he said. "Ishi will show you some more of the planet. The city and the temperate zone."

She nodded slowly. "All right. But..." She held up a warning hand, "I'm not making promises. But I'll listen."

***


They decided to tell Janeway together, feeling a responsibility to both her and Chakotay that went above and beyond that of concern that their senior officers should be the first to know. Kolopak suggested inviting them both for dinner. The friendship between the four had blossomed after its rocky beginning, and there was a comfortable intimacy about it, that of old friends, childhood friends. Which they were, in a way, but also so much more.

Kathryn agreed; they would break the news to them then. They had withheld the fact that they were even considering staying behind, asking Ishi to respect their privacy and not to mention it to Janeway. It was not that they wanted to keep a secret; more that they didn't want to raise the topic to have it turn into a non-event. But the decision had been made that morning. Kathryn and Kolopak would be staying on Modoc and starting new lives, heading the planet's space exploration program.

They had made the decision the previous night, talking through the offer, voicing their doubts and fears to counter the bubbling enthusiasm they both felt about the new path offered them. And sometime in the early hours, they had decided.

Kol had held her hands tightly, his grip crushing her fingers together. "You sure, love?" he said. "There's no going back."

"Yes." Her voice shook slightly on the word. "I'm sure. We'll do this together."

"Together," he said, and abruptly clutched her to his chest and she found she was crying, even as she felt him drop his head to press his cheek against hers and the dampness on his face told its own tale.

They rocked together for a few minutes; the decision made the tears as much a release of the tension she didn't know she was harboring as for the people she would never see again. She thought of her friends and family; her mother, Phoebe her sister, Mark, friends from her academy days, friends in Indiana. Carefully, she pictured each dear face in turn, before folding the images away, wrapping them carefully in soft clouds of memory, to place them gently in a corner of her mind. She knew she would call up these mental images in the future, knew she would miss them, acutely at times, at others with the wry curl of reminiscence, and she would never forget them.

Kol, she knew, already had his images stored in his mental gallery. He had lost so much already, and his family was scattered. He had said goodbye to them long ago. She suspected he was cataloging his memories of Voyager, recalling friends old and new. They would talk about their recollections later, maybe weave themselves tales of what their friends might be doing, but now was not the time to wallow in the past. Now was for moving forward.

With a hiccuping breath she had reached up to kiss him, drawing his mouth down to hers, and letting their bodies reaffirm their belief in each other. They would be all right. How could they not be?

The command team came for dinner the next night. The atmosphere was relaxed and easy, and Kathryn felt a pang at the loss of a friendship that was becoming as comfortable as an old sweater. Kolopak and Chakotay were relating a funny story from the Maquis, about one of B'Elanna's more creative fixes to the engines that had gone horribly and hilariously wrong. They were laughing so hard that they could hardly get the words out, finishing each other's sentences. Chakotay had one arm around Janeway, the other held a mug of beer that he was in danger of spilling over himself, he was shaking so much with laughter so much. Janeway was laughing up at him, obviously relaxed about their new level of familiarity, encouraging him to keep talking by pounding his thigh.

"I'm going to miss this." Kathryn's words fell unheeded at first into the raucous tone of the evening, then Kol registered her wistful tone and fell silent. Gradually the story petered out.

"Miss what?" Chakotay wiped tears of laughter from his eyes. He took in the suddenly somber mood of the other two. "Is there something we're missing here?"

"Kathryn?" Janeway was looking at her strangely. "What is it?" Janeway shifted away from Chakotay to place a comforting arm around her double's shoulders. "What's wrong?"

"We...that is, Kol and I, want to..." Her words petered out.

"We wish to resign our commissions and remain behind on Modoc when Voyager departs, Captain." Kolopak spoke steadily.

For several charged moments, nobody spoke. Kathryn sought the captain's eyes, a sudden moment of insecurity -- would Janeway be relieved that they were leaving? But the captain's face was sad.

Chakotay was the first to break the silence. "I know you've thought hard about this, both of you," he said. "I'm going to miss you," his mouth self-deprecatingly. "But of course you know that. I wish you every happiness and contentment in your lives." He stood, and moved to Kol, and the two men embraced, a long hard clasp that spoke of more than friendship. Chakotay broke the embrace and moved to Kathryn. She moved into the arms that were so familiar, yet so different. Chakotay held her closely for a moment, before releasing her to the captain's clasp.

The four of them pulled apart. Janeway sat back down on the couch, her eyes suspiciously bright. "I accept your resignations," she said formally. "Although I am sorry to lose two such valuable members of my crew." Her voice softened. "And even sorrier to lose two such valuable friends." She swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Tell me about the positions that Ishi must have offered to make you stay."

So they told her and Chakotay about the modern cities and open spaces. Deserts to soothe Kolopak's soul; fertile green lands that reminded Kathryn of Indiana. The promise of space exploration, the offer to command their own ship if the planet-based directorship proved too confining for them, or the urge to explore too strong. About the ongoing research into defenses against the Borg and the Kazon. Kolopak spoke with glowing eyes about the unexcavated historical sites in the desert areas, the possibility that this was the dwelling area of a race of people totally unlike the Modocans and the possibility that these were a space-faring people from many thousands of years ago. Together they spoke of the friendly people, healthcare, social welfare programs that really did address the problem of poverty yet allowed people to feel rewarded for their achievements.

Here, said Kolopak, they could at least allow themselves the luxury of thinking about children, even if they chose not to pursue that path.

Janeway did cry then, silent tears at the unvoiced given that they could not have considered that step on Voyager. And when Janeway raised the subject of Gretchen and Phoebe, it was Kathryn's turn to weep. And promises were made; that when Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant, their families would be told about them, personal letters delivered. Messages for loved ones, pictures and momentos handed over. And should communication with the Delta Quadrant ever become possible, then that would offer new possibilities again.

Janeway and Chakotay finally left after midnight, when the tears had all been shed, congratulations expressed, and a long time spent discussing Kathryn and Kolopak's new life.

***


The path to his new quarters took him past Janeway's door.

"You can have your quarters back when they leave," she said, in the uncanny way she had at times of verbalizing his thoughts.

"Yes. But it doesn't seem important." He thought how much he would miss his twin. He'd never really had a close male friend. He'd been a loner in Starfleet, too quiet and with a natural introspection that made it hard for him to open up quickly to people. In the Maquis he'd seen too many friendships blown apart in a burst of phaser fire or lost in the silence of a missing ship to want to get close to many people. He'd made his share of friendships on Voyager, but never a close male friendship. Not until now, and the easy camaraderie he shared with Kol.

They arrived at her door, and he touched her hand, preparing to take his leave. "It's late, Kathryn. I'll see you tomorrow."

She surprised him by catching his fingers. "Stay," she said.

He thought that she was feeling melancholy and needed to talk. "A cup of tea would be nice." He followed her into her quarters, but she didn't cross to the replicator. Instead she wrapped her arms around his waist, laying her head on his chest. His arms rose to enclose her, rubbing her back lightly.

Her voice was muffled by his shirt, but he still heard the words. "I meant stay with me tonight." She tilted her head back to look at him.

He knew he couldn't do it. Much as he wanted to lie with her, he wouldn't let himself take advantage of her sorrow. It was understandable that she didn't want to be alone tonight, she too, was losing a dear, close friend, but in the morning it would be different, and he didn't think he could take the rejection that would be sure to follow.

She must have seen the emotions flit across his face. "No, Chakotay," she said. "It's not what you're thinking. Yes, I'm sad that they are leaving, but this isn't about comfort." She stroked the back of her fingers across his cheek. He caught them with his lips as they trailed past, and he watched bemusedly at her shudder; she had never been so open in showing just how much he affected her.

"What is it about?" he asked.

"Us," she said simply. "Making love. Being together from now on. Sharing our lives and our bodies as well as our command."

Still he hesitated slightly, wanting what she was offering with every fiber of his being, but not quite daring to believe.

"And you're right," she continued. "This is about Kathryn and Kolopak in a way. They have dared to change their lives so many times. Surely we can make this one small change too. They have showed how it is possible. In a way, Modoc is their New Earth, but they are seizing theirs with both hands, something I could never do." She drew a deep breath. " But I'd like to seize it now, Chakotay. I love you."

The words that she had not spoken since the night so many months ago when she had agreed to consider something between them, dropped into the air between them. And this time, they carried the emotion he had hoped for. Any other words she might be going to say were lost as he took her mouth, finally believing that they would do this. She kissed him back, wrapping her hands round his back, roaming down to grasp his buttocks and pull him closer to her.

She drew away, and taking his hand, led him to her bed.

***


They left the ship a week later. Possessions, finally divided, were transported to the surface. The crew manifest altered, formal resignations put onto the record. Tom, in typical flamboyant fashion, had thrown them a large farewell party on the holodeck, and they had said their good byes to all of the crew. Some were cheerful, some poignant, others bittersweet.

Tom's own farewell had been uncharacteristically emotional. A clasp of hands with Kol had led to Kol being roughly pulled into a hard embrace. The two men grasped each other for a moment, then Tom released him and turned to Kathryn. And the embrace was just as fierce, but there was a tender element that moved her.

"Stop him from killing me for doing this," whispered Tom, and kissed her, his lips lingering on hers for a moment longer than friendship allowed.

***


Only Janeway and Chakotay saw them off in the transporter room. The good-byes had already been said, wishes and requests spoken and agreed to.

"We'll be in orbit for another twenty-four hours," said Janeway, "if you want to change your mind. And we'll be in hailing distance for another seven days or so. After that, well, you understand that I can't promise."

"We know," said Kolopak "Thank you."

They stood on the transporter pads, dressed in civilian clothes. Now that the moment had come, none of them knew what to say.

Chakotay flipped the sequence of levers to initiate transport.

"Wait." Janeway held up a hand. Crossing to the pad she whispered something to the pair of them, then stepped back. "Energize," she said.

Chakotay saw the two faces on the pad register momentary astonishment at whatever Janeway had said to them, then large smiles as they dissolved in the beam of the transport.

He turned to Janeway, his Kathryn. "What did you say to them?" he asked curiously.

She moved closer to him, fitting herself to his side. "I told them that I loved you, and that we were lovers. I thought they would like to know."

He kissed the top of her head, then moved away, mindful of the fact that they were on duty. "I think they would be pleased that you shared that," he said.

Her expression was melancholy. "I'll miss them," she whispered. "May they live long and prosper."

"Us too," he said. "May we live long and prosper, together, like they will be."

"Yes," she echoed. "Together." Linking her hand with his, they walked out of the transporter room.

FIN

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