By Shayenne

Disclaimer: The usual. Whatever.
Rated G

Written for VAMB's secret ficlet exchange. My recipient, Belanna, provided the first line and requested a J/C ficlet. That gave me a few headscratch moments! The result is as much C and T friendship as it is J/C.
Feedback? Please. Shayenne


B'Elanna placed her hand on Chakotay's shoulder. "No fight is more important than friendship, you taught me that."

"And did you ever listen?"

"Well, no, but-"

"This is not up for negotiation, B'Elanna."

Chakotay met her eyes with a granite stare, and his shoulder twitched underneath her hand. B'Elanna removed her fingers as if they were scorched with plasma.

Chakotay pushed his hands into his hair disarranging the neat cut. B'Elanna longed to smooth it back to order. In another time, another place, another ship she wouldn't have hesitated, but here on Voyager things were different. Her friend was different. Life was turning inside out, shifting and rearranging itself under her feet. She didn't like it.

She didn't like Voyager. She didn't trust Voyager's captain. And for possibly the first time in their friendship, Chakotay was refusing to listen to her.

Not for the first time, she mentally blasted the caretaker to smithereens for landing them here in the Delta Quadrant.

Voyager was too ordered, too neat. The engines thrummed steadily, with none of the rumbles and uneven beats of the Val Jean. The Val Jean's engines had needed cosseting and constant attention to keep them operating, as much art and love as science, but they responded to her care. B'Elanna had almost believed they were a living thing. There was no song in Voyager's quiet operation, just the dull beat of efficiency, maintained in paint-by-numbers fashion by faceless drones in Starfleet uniforms. She itched to get her hands on those engines. Make them sing.

"B'Elanna," Chakotay's expression softened, and he took her arm and steered her to a table in the quiet mess hall. He left, to return moments later with two plates of food, and slid onto the bench opposite her. "I don't want to fight with you. I certainly don't want to lose your friendship. But if you can't accept the way things have to be from now on, then there's no choice."

It was B'Elanna's turn to flinch from the unwanted touch. "So it's ultimatum time? Her or me?"

"I'm sorry you see it that way."

"I see my best friend who's sold himself to Starfleet for a rank bar. She hasn't even given you commander's pips, Chakotay. She's probably told you it's the same, but it's not. It's different at a basic level. You're not her equal - you never will be."

"Not her equal, no." His expression drilled into her. "But whether you like it or not, I am now her XO and I take that seriously."

"So your loyalty is now with Starfleet, not the Maquis." B'Elanna's expression twisted, and the sense of betrayal she'd been suppressing welled up and out into bright room. "She's not to be trusted, Chakotay. As soon as she finds suitable replacement crew, we'll be dropped on the nearest M class planet. You've betrayed us and you expect me to sit here and nod and agree."


"Are you ordering me?"

"If necessary. But as your friend, I'd rather you listened."

Chakotay was different, thought B'Elanna. They'd been in the Delta Quandrant for only a few days, he'd been made XO less than 48 hours before, and already his language had changed. In the Maquis, he'd worn leather and talked of the Cardassians with hate in his voice, and when he'd spoken of Starfleet it had been with cool detachment. Not the enemy, but not something to be revered and obeyed either. Now the fervor in his voice was for Voyager. And the captain, Janeway... Seska had better watch out, thought B'Elanna. Chakotay's focus seemed to be shifting.

"I know you don't trust Janeway," said Chakotay. "But I do. I believe her absolutely when she says she will integrate our two crews. She is our best chance to get us home-"

"Where she will turn us over to Starfleet.-"

"We'll meet that if it happens. Janeway is a woman of integrity. I feel that strongly." He paused, and his face fell into reflective lines. "If it had been any other captain, I doubt I would be this trusting. But she will unite our crews and I will support her. That's where my loyalty is: to Janeway and all the crew of Voyager. Not to Starfleet. Not yet."

The belief shone out of his face like a searchlight. Chakotay had a new motivation, B'Elanna thought. In the Maquis, justice, revenge, and a passionate desire to set things right had been her friend's motivation -- for most of them, come to that, bar the ones with their own agenda, or the ones for whom any cause was a good one if it allowed them to keep killing.

But now, Chakotay's talk revolved around Voyager. He talked of the ship, how they could each contribute, the way things had to be. And he talked of Janeway. He talked of her often, and it was with admiration, respect, and a loyalty that had sprung fully-formed from his trusting heart. His focus had narrowed, he'd found the woman around whom his universe turned.

She wasn't aware she'd spoken aloud until she saw Chakotay's startled expression - as if a truth had been spoken that maybe he hadn't realized himself. B'Elanna watched the expressions flit across his face: discomfort, a momentary blaze in his eyes at her, and then a twist of his lips

"That's a bit premature," he said.

B'Elanna waited, unwilling to break the moment that hung between them.

"She's not my universe," he said, "but there's something there. Some connection between us. More than that of captain and XO. She fills my head in a way I've not felt since Sveta."

"Does she feel it too?"

"I don't think so. Not yet. But my spirit guide says-"

B'Elanna waited, but knew he wouldn't continue.

"And if she turns us over to Starfleet?" she asked, when the pause became uncomfortable.

"She won't." Quiet certainty in his voice.

In the space in the conversation, B'Elanna concentrated on shoveling her neglected dinner. The sincerity of Chakotay's words rang true, but her gut roiled and rebelled at the idea of joining with Janeway. Still the enemy. Always the enemy.

A sudden tenseness in her companion alerted her to a change. Janeway strode into the mess hall. She accepted a plate from Neelix and paused, her gaze sweeping the hall for somewhere to sit. Her dining room had already been appropriated by Neelix for a galley. B'Elanna snorted. A captain's dining room indeed. The concept encapsulated all that was wrong with this ship.

She knew the instant the captain's gaze met Chakotay's. The anticipation in his posture seemed to drift into relaxation the moment Janeway moved across to join them.

"Commander. Torres." An acknowledgement to each in husky tones.

Chakotay smiled, a brief professional smile, and his fingers twitched on the table as if he wanted to touch the back of Janeway's hand, know what the touch of skin was like.

Janeway slid onto the bench next to Chakotay. Her eye contact was brief. "I'm glad you're here, Torres. I want to talk to you."

Chakotay started to rise. "I'll leave you to it."

"No, stay. This concerns you as well." Janeway touched the back of his hand for attention.

B'Elanna wondered how that touch felt to Chakotay, Did he feel a connection? A brush of souls in that fleeting touch? She snorted softly under her breath at the fanciful turn her thoughts had taken.

Chakotay subsided, closer to his captain than before. The bench was narrow, and he was a big man, made bigger, bolder by that casual skin touch.

Janeway's attention switched to B'Elanna, a gimlet gaze that seemed to pierce through her head to the doubts and anger churning inside.

"Chakotay tells me you're an excellent engineer," said Janeway. "I need good engineers."

B'Elanna thought of rank and regulations, of the menial duties Janeway no doubt had in mind. She saw herself changing endless plasma relays while a Starfleet drone followed behind, checking she'd done it correctly. The M class planet seemed sweeter.

Rather than think about the drudgery to come, she focused instead on Chakotay and Janeway. There was an aloofness around Janeway, but together they looked comfortable, as if they'd worked alongside each other for months rather than a few days. Chakotay exuded calm and his concentration was on his captain. His eyes lingered on her profile, on the upswept hair in its too-tight bun.

With the ferocity of deep friendship, B'Elanna hoped her friend wouldn't get his heart broken. For he was offering it on a plate. Maybe she was the only one to see this-- certainly Janeway gave no outward sign she'd noticed. B'Elanna gripped her thumbs tightly, a childhood gesture of longing. Let Janeway be a good leader, she thought. Let her accept Chakotay by her side. Let them steer this ship of misfits home, together.

"-chief engineer," Janeway was saying. Her eyes met and held Chakotay's for a charged second. "Torres, the Commander recommended, and I agree that you will make an excellent chief engineer. I hope you will accept the position."


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