COMMON GROUND

By Shayenne

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Paramount, the order of the words belongs to me.
Rated PG

A ficlet request from Joywriter

 

For Joywriter, with love.

Janeway paced to the far end of the room and came to a stop in front of the window. From her elevated position, the uniform square buildings of Desai's major city spread in every direction.

Janeway blew a frustrated breath. The city typified the Desai people: dull, slow moving and without any sort of visual appeal. Trade with the Desai was a protracted business, a slow shuffle through the steps of negotiation that had a predestined end: Voyager would gain the supplies at one and one third of their original offer. The city's Councilor had already informed her of the outcome in a monotone voice, adding, as Janeway had stood up, briskly smiling ready to take leave, that the formal protocols still had to be observed. Janeway and her companion should allow for a stay of approximately three days.

Half a day into the negotiations and Janeway was ready to concede defeat and transport back to Voyager, supplies be dammed. It might have been easier to pass the time in the featureless room assigned to them-- one they couldn't leave except to sleep and only then in the allocated night time hours--if her companion had been Chakotay. Or B'Elanna. Or Tom Paris with his quick wit and sense of fun. But no, she was accompanied on this trip by the taciturn Gregor Ayala, a man about whom she knew little, and who since their arrival had said even less.

She flicked him a glance. Ayala stood beside the door, his handsome face flat and expressionless. Didn't he ever get tired? she wondered.

Ayala was one of Chakotay's original crew. Janeway frowned. How had Ayala ended up on her security force? Somehow she doubted the informal structure of the Maquis had such a job description.

He's a good man, a solid man, she remembered Chakotay saying, but beyond that, she drew a blank.

Glancing over at Ayala, she said, "You don't have to stand there all the time, Lieutenant. Come and sit down."

For a moment she thought Ayala would refuse, but with a nod, he left the door and came to sit where she indicated, in the chair opposite hers.

"Not one of our most exciting missions," she remarked. "I know there's a multitude of things I'd rather be doing on Voyager."

He smiled slightly, and she thought absently that his face was softer, more approachable when he smiled. "Me too, Captain. But it seems we don't have a choice."

"What would you rather be doing?"

"Revising the fitness programs."

She grimaced. "Please tell me it doesn't include running with packs."

"It does now, Captain." Was that a hint of a smile around the corners of his mouth?

"That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger." She glanced at him again and found he was now openly grinning at her disgust. "Oh well, it could have been worse. It could have been-"

"Yes?"

"Don't tell me you're taking notes."

"I don't need to. I have perfect recall."

"Really? Why wasn't that brought to my attention? Why are you in security and not tactical?"

For a second, he looked uncomfortable, embarrassed, as if he'd been caught out, and she was instantly intrigued. She'd meant the question as an offhand remark. Presumably when they journey started Chakotay had good reasons to suggest Ayala for security, but either she'd forgotten them or she'd never known.

"Did you request security?" she asked, "or was it Chakotay's idea?"

She wasn't imagining it. Although he was outwardly calm, Greg Ayala was obviously squirming inside.

"It was my idea," he replied, a nanosecond before the silence became uncomfortable.

"Did you work security before?" she persisted. "On the Val Jean?"

A slight smile, showing slightly uneven white teeth. "On the Val Jean we all worked security."

"Touché," She stretched out her legs and regarded her booted feet. "I was merely curious as to how you ended up working security on Voyager, as opposed to tactical. I've seen you standing in for Harry on Ops. You're a good tactician."

"You really want to know?" Ayala leaned forward, his eyes drilling her face. "Captain, if you're not satisfied-"

"Lieutenant - Greg. I'm more than happy with your work. I'm simply trying to get to know you a little better."

Ayala smiled, a thin twist of his lips. "Captain, do you trust me?"

"Of course." She didn't have to think about the response. Of course she trusted all her crew, but Ayala in particular had a solidity about him. Despite his rather unexpressionless face, he projected reassurance. She would trust him with her life - and of course, as a member of her security team, her life was indeed in her hands.

"Good." Swiftly, he stuck out a foot, and hooked it deftly around her calves, reaching forward to tug arms. She ricocheted up like a slingshot up that she was flush against him. He twisted her around so that her back was to his chest, her arms pinned behind her.

Janeway gasped, deliberately relaxed, meaning to secure enough play in his hold to jab backwards with an elbow or a foot. But Ayala merely tightened his grasp. She was secured as effectively as if she were bound by a forcefield.

"You're good." She didn't demand her release, even though her shoulders ached from the position.

"I know." His words were quiet, close to her ear. "That's one reason I'm so often on your security detail."

There was more that he wasn't saying, a subtle underlay to his words, an undercurrent of other issues in play. And despite their close confines, she noted he was careful not to embarrass her. There was air between their lower bodies, and the arm across her chest was high, close to her collarbones.

She gritted her teeth against the ache in her shoulders. "And the other reasons?"

He released her then, and she fought the urge to flex her shoulders, ease the ache.

"When we were first on board Voyager," he began, "when Chakotay agreed that the Maquis would join your crew, not everyone was happy." She nodded; this she knew from discussions with Chakotay, and had surmised for herself from the attitude of some.

"Chakotay trusted you implicitly. Others, not so much."

The words were said without inflection, without censure or blame, just a flat relating of the facts. Janeway kept her face immobile, silent permission to continue.

"There were undercurrents. And for the first time, there was dissent. Some wanted to mutiny, try and seize the ship. Others wanted to be left on a suitable planet. A few did agree with Chakotay that we could work with Starfleet, but they were the minority. But there was one thing that nearly everyone agreed on: we didn't trust Starfleet and we didn't entirely trust you."

She sucked in a breath, let it out slowly, hoping he wouldn't notice. Even after these years, to have it said baldy to her face left a cold, hard nugget of anger and pain inside her.

Greg's eyes flickered. He'd noticed. Of course he had - it was his job to notice things like that.

"We had a meeting. We agreed that we'd go along with Chakotay, and work toward getting Voyager home. But we needed to know if you were on the level, or if you planned to turn against us in some way. Maybe you planned to replace with crew taken on from a friendly planet. Maybe you were going to use our labor to repair Voyager and then once she was fixed, you'd space us all. So we needed someone on the inside, some one with a high level of access. We knew Chakotay wouldn't do it; we didn't even consider him. You had his loyalty from the start, Captain. I hope you appreciate that."

She nodded in silent agreement.

"Few of the Maquis had formal training in anything. But I'd worked with Tuvok on the Val Jean and so I suggested to Chakoay that I join his security force. Chakotay tried to talk me out of it. He said I should aim higher, maybe a position in Ops. But I was adamant, and when Chakotay saw that, he agreed."

"So you were a Maquis spy?"

He looked her squarely in the face. "Yes, Captain."

She nodded once, a brief acknowledgement of his honesty.

"I'd wondered. Not about you specifically, but about the Maquis. There had to be dissenters, but Chakotay was sure that his crew would shake down and work well. He was right, although it seems it wasn't as smooth as he said."

"There were a few interesting moments," he agreed, and she read the echo of harsh words and probably a few physical altercations in his words.

She was silent for a few moments, but then she had to ask, "And now?"

A glimmer of a smile. "You've never done us wrong, Captain. It didn't take long to realize that, and when we did, we erased the copies of data we'd taken, removed the traps set in the computer and systems failures set to trigger on a Maquis command. Now I'm proud to serve in security for no other reason than to ensure the safety of this crew. Yours in particular."

She blew out a breath. "That's rather lucky. For a moment I thought I'd be reallocating you to assist Neelix."

"If you don't trust me with a weapon in my hand, you shouldn't trust me with the food," he replied, and the glint in his eye told her he wasn't serious. They had moved beyond the serious now, were forging a new level of communication, certainly not friends, but a level of comfort attained after confidences shared.

She let the silence lie between them, a comfortable one this time. Greg was the first to break it. "We did a lot of waiting in the Maquis. And there was one thing that always made the time go faster."

"What's that?"

Greg produced a battered small box from the jacket pocket of his uniform. It was made of some metal, and it was dull, dented and scorched along one edge by something that looked like phaser fire. "Cards. Do you play poker, Captain?"

Guiltily, she thought of the reports and PADDs stacked up in her ready room on Voyager, reports and PADDs she couldn't access until this mission was over.

"Set 'em up, Greg. You're on!"

(((FIN)))

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