DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns everyone in this story. The remaining mush is purely the result of my own overactive imagination.
WARNING: This story contains absolutely NO SEX. Continue reading at your own discretion. If you are STILL disappointed by the aforementioned lack of sex, you have no one to blame but yourself. Don't say I didn't warn you. If you like it, write to me! If you don't, just delete it and let me be blissfully unaware.
SPECIAL THANKS: to my other "Ace", for pointing out some faux pas that would have landed me in deep doo-doo with some of my favorite writers, M.G., L.B., & L.W.
DUBIOUS THANKS: to the criminal justice system, for eight hours of boring jury pool duty, thereby giving me the time to finish this little piece of fluff.



"EMPATHY" by Becca O.


Sandrine's was quiet this evening. Chakotay downed his drink and eyed the other patrons. Since their journey began, nearly three years ago now, he had observed a quiet blending, a bonding of the two factions of crew. The once-distinct line between Starfleet and Maquis had dissipated; faded with time and alliance.

It had been interesting observing the crew, watching the barriers fall as personal relationships blossomed and deepened. As First Officer, he had consciously held himself at a distance. The command protocol was required--no, necessary--on a mission such as this. He was secretly pleased to see the varied pairings of the crew members, but at the same time saddened by his own forced distancing from the companionship he needed.

B'Elanna was a good friend, but since her relationship with Harry Kim began, he was loath to intrude on their privacy. Tom Paris had even become a friend. The responsibility of command had matured him into quite a capable officer. Of course, the cockiness that had so angered Chakotay in the past was still there, but it seemed such an ingrained part of his personality that it no longer seemed to bother him.

The Captain-- well, Kathryn Janeway was a puzzle. While the crew relaxed and became easy compatriots, she had seemed to retreat further into herself. Chakotay knew for a fact that she felt much the same as he regarding the distance of command. The old saying "lonely at the top" had never been more fitting than it was out here, light-years--maybe decades-- away from home.

She wasn't here tonight. Come to think of it, he mused, she hadn't been here for several nights.

Vowing silently to speak with her tomorrow, he pushed himself away from the table, said his goodnights and strode toward his cabin. Exiting the lift onto the officer's living deck, he saw the Captain entering her quarters. His urge to call out to her was great, but he hesitated. The look of deep sadness on her face stopped him. For reasons he chose not to explore, his breath caught in his chest and held.

His dreams that night were haunted by a melancholy mist that seemed to wrap around his soul, to seep into his body, restricting his movement. From beyond the darkness, his guide called out to him, beckoning him to clear the path, to dispel the gloom. Without warning, her eyes became the Captain's eyes, the soft gray fur became soft, honey-colored wisps...Chakotay woke in a tangle of sheets, the Captain's name on his lips.

0600 hours. Might as well stay up, he was due on the bridge in an hour anyway.

Stepping into the Mess Hall, he saw that he wasn't the only one up early. The Captain sat at her usual table, a cup of steaming coffee before her.

"I see you're indulging yourself. May I join you?"

Startled from her thoughts, Janeway turned to her First Officer. "Of course. Have a seat Commander."

The professional mask she always wore slipped quickly into place, but not before Chakotay caught a glimpse of the same unhappiness he had witnessed the night before. The aura of sadness surrounding her was palpable.

The words escaped his lips before he could stop them.

"What's wrong, Captain?" Wincing slightly at the unexpected frankness, she smiled. "Nothing I can't handle, Commander." *I shouldn't be surprised* she thought. When had Chakotay ever been anything *but* frank? If there was ever anything she could count on out here, it was her First Officer voicing his opinion, whether asked for or not.

"Permission to speak freely, Captain?"

"At ease, Commander. We're not on duty for awhile." She paused before speaking. "I know I'm going to regret asking, but what's on your mind?"

Leaning back in his chair, his dark eyes bored into hers. "That's what *I'd* like to know. It's obvious that there's something bothering you. I'd like to help if I can."

Janeway hesitated a beat. "It's personal. I can work it out."

"Captain--I may be out of line here, but you appointed me as counselor and spiritual advisor on this ship some time ago. It's my responsibility to help care for the well-being of the crew, and that includes you. I'd be remiss if I didn't offer my assistance." Chakotay's experienced eyes watched her nervously trace the rim of her cup with her index finger. "Have you spoken with your guide?"

A guilty flush tinged Janeway's face as she shifted restlessly in her chair. *He knows me too well* she thought with a start.

"I'll take that as a 'no'. If you won't talk to me, then at least talk to your guide. I don't think the crew has sensed anything, but it's only a matter of time before they do. *Your* well-being affects everyone on this ship." Standing and pushing his chair in, he continued, "If you need my help, you know where to find me." Chakotay left Janeway to her own thoughts, the pain in his heart identically mirroring the pain on her face.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Later that evening, Janeway found herself traversing the width of her cabin for the hundredth time; even worse, the fact that she had counted her steps. *He's right, you know* she chided herself. Without surprise, she realized that his words had been in the back of her mind all day. Even Kes had observed much the same thing several days ago. This was an unaccustomed emotion for her. Usually so in control, an all-pervading feeling of gloom was unsettling, to say the least. *Well, no time like the present.*

Entering her bedroom, she returned moments later with a small fabric pouch. Her own medicine bundle. She had laughed gleefully when Chakotay had first suggested it to her, but the serious, sincere look on his face had shamed her. He was only trying to help, and she, in essence was ridiculing one of his time-honored traditions.

It took several weeks of contemplation and several more weeks of replicator rations before she felt she had the right components to begin her spiritual journey. Kathryn Janeway had never been a particularly religious person. She had always supposed it was the scientist in her that reputed the mystical facets of organized religion. That's not to say she hadn't tried, but on more than one occasion, she had found herself over-analyzing the precepts before her until no amount of wishing would allow her to regain her focus.

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she remembered the weeks before her bundle had been finished. Endless meals in the mess hall, without the respite of an occasional sinful dessert. Hours pouring over her personal logs, trying to ascertain just what places and things had held the most meaning along their journey. She had few personal belongings from Earth, her mission was to have been of short duration, and even fewer trinkets from their present course. Finally, she had what she considered the necessary items. Chakotay had been there, right beside her, to guide her and answer the infinite number of questions that she posed with an almost childlike innocence.

The final addition had been the replicated acunah, the psychoactive device that Chakotay's people used in place of herbs. This had been important, as they were both fairly certain they didn't care to trust Neelix with the selection of anything to do with vision questing. His heart was in the right place, but he somehow managed to distort even the simplest request. Untying the strings of the bundle before her, she softly recited the ancient words. "I am far from the places of my grandfathers. I am far from the bones of my people. Assist me in my quest." She slowly removed the items, one by one, and placed them in a semi-circle in front of her. Closing her eyes, she placed her hand on the acunah. A sudden sense of warmth and well-being enveloped her and surrounded her like mist.

From the distance, her guide appeared and waited patiently, unquestioningly, for her to speak. Gazing intently at its tiny form, her mind voiced the one question that had been buried so deeply in her subconscious that the actual voicing of it shocked her and left her shaking. "Who?" she asked. The light seemed to radiate from its small, wise eyes as the answer was there, unspoken.

*You will know. When it is time, you will know*

The connection was broken and Janeway opened her eyes and glanced fearfully around. The scene had been so real, she felt as if somehow she had been observed and found out. Clasping her hands in front of her to still the trembling, she shook off the images in her mind and proceeded to reassemble the pouch. *I need a change of pace. This is getting to be too much.* Shaking her head, she took a shower, donned a casual warm-up suit and headed for Sandrine's.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The holodeck was crowded. It seemed half the crew had the same need for escape tonight. Tom Paris was there, the ever-present Ricki on his arm, hustling yet another misguided ensign at the pool table. Harry and B'Elanna had their "private" table in the corner, away from the intruding eyes of the other patrons.

Janeway was happy for them. Since those first days together, it seemed the two had shared a bond unlike the rest of the crew. Harry had grown into a confident young man, his self-confidence and maturity finally catching up to his knowledge. B'Elanna....The captain sighed as she remembered her first encounters with the arrogant, brash Maquis engineer. Had it not been for Chakotay's intervention, Torres might well have assaulted her on her own bridge.

Funny, Chakotay had always been on her side. Even though she was the "captor" as it were, he had unswervingly opted to work with her and follow regulation Starfleet protocols. Loyalty and devotion were among his many strong suits. Before she had time to contemplate his other fine qualities, Sandrine was there offering her favorite white wine.

"Thank you. Just a small glass, I'm really just here for the company." Kathryn watched Paris' game with amusement, till the young ensign had had enough fun, and departed to cover his losses. Her back was turned to the door, when a familiar presence spoke behind her.

"Captain--nice to see you out tonight." Chakotay reached around her for his drink, and in doing so brushed against her arm.

Kathryn turned to speak to him, and in the brief seconds it took to make eye contact, her breath caught and her heart slammed against her ribcage. *You will know* *You will know...* *...know* No....this is ridiculous.

NO.

Chakotay was mesmerized by the play of emotions on her face. He would have given a month's worth of replicator rations to know what caused her to alternately pale and then flush from her head to....

"Commander--" she squeaked, then clearing her throat, said, "I took some well-spoken advice and decided to mingle for awhile."

"Well, whoever offered that advice must be a very wise person," he said with that devious glint in his eye. "At any rate, I'm happy to see you looking better. Care to join me in a game of pool?"

"Not tonight, Commander. I'll just watch. But do me a favor?"

"Anything," he said with a boyish grin.

"Beat Tom Paris for me, would you?"

"With pleasure," he said chuckling and calling out to Tom.

She watched them play for an hour or more, observing the subtle nuances of the game, more often though, observing Chakotay.

*Why did I think of him?* she wondered. *Good grief, he's my first officer. He knows the command protocols as well as I do.* Then her thoughts would drift away again, to watch the control in his arms and hands as he handled the cue and deftly won yet another round.

Chakotay had been cognizant of the Captain's observation for some time now. It didn't bother him, but his curiosity was about to get the best of him. When he glanced up and met her eyes for the umpteenth time that night, he resolved to find out just what was going on. Before he could escape the last round, Janeway called out her good nights and left the holodeck. Chakotay couldn't follow her without raising eyebrows and causing speculation, so he decided to see her another time.

Janeway fled to her cabin, engaged the privacy lock and leaned wearily against the door. Pulling the pins from her hair, she undressed for bed and proceeded to spend a disquieting night dreaming the most unsettling things about herself and her First Officer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Captain spent most of the next duty shift in her ready room, ostensibly catching up on reports, but truth be told, she just wasn't ready to face Chakotay. Her reaction to his presence last evening had been far out of the ordinary, and her restless night compounded her unease. Janeway was finally immersed in her reports when the door chime sounded. "Come," she called, not bothering to look up from the padd on her desk. The lengthening silence in the room finally alerted her to the man standing before her.

"Commander--what can I do for you?"

"These are the energy consumption modifications you asked engineering for," he replied handing her a padd.

Janeway took the padd, a look of embarrassed relief crossing her face. Thanking the Commander, she turned her attention to her work, but Chakotay remained where he was, a hesitant look on his face.

"Was there something else?"

"I wanted to speak with you last night, but you left Sandrine's before I had the chance."

Janeway leaned forward on her desk crossing her arms in front of her. "It was a long day, Commander. I needed to get some rest."

Chakotay took in the dark circles under her eyes, the pallor of her skin.

"Quite honestly, Captain, it doesn't look like you succeeded." He tempered his statement with an easy smile. "Did you speak with your animal guide?"

"Yes, I did." Her answer was terse, not at all what he had hoped for, and he paused, weighing his next words carefully.

"Well-- I'm glad. You need someone to talk to. A friend. It gets lonely out here sometimes."

Janeway sat back in her chair, surprise registering on her face. Wrapped up in her own feelings, she had never considered that Chakotay might be feeling the same alienation. "But you have friends..."

"Yes, I do. But there's a line there that can't be crossed. I'm second in command--friendship and closeness are two separate things." Chakotay watched the play of emotions on Janeway's face. He could almost read her thoughts as she considered his words. She had sheltered herself in command for so long that she was quite honestly unaware of his own self-imposed isolation.

"Tell me something, Commander." He waited patiently for her to continue. "How do *you* do it? How do you find that rapport without crossing the line?"

"Simply? Trust, Captain. You have to trust yourself and trust the crew, also. You can't be on duty twenty-four hours a day. Sooner or later you reach a breaking point and that's not healthy; not physically and certainly not mentally." Janeway watched his face intently as he spoke. His sincerity was such a part of him, that it transformed his face and lit his eyes.

"Captain, we've been out here almost three years now. You've trusted us with your ship and each other's lives. You need to trust *us* to know the difference between on- and off-duty. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the lift it will bring to morale."

"Mine or the crew's?" she asked with a more relaxed smile than he had seen in months.

"Both, Captain," he answered with an easy grin. "Will we see you later?"

"Count on it, Commander." Nodding her head in dismissal, Janeway returned to her work with a renewed vitality and actual anticipation for the evening ahead.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Harboring a heady sense of expectation, Janeway entered the turbolift. "Computer, deck--"

"Computer, hold." Chakotay caught up with her just as the doors were closing. "Captain--are you going to see what Neelix has concocted tonight?"

"No, I thought I might go make some friends. I seem to be the recipient of some very good advice lately."

"Computer, deck four. Might I make a suggestion?" He looked down at Janeway with a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Have dinner with me." Her eyes narrowed at this and he continued on, hurriedly. "We can watch everyone else, and I can fill you in on what you've missed."

"You've got a date," she said smiling into his face as the lift doors opened. Chakotay ushered her through the doors of the holodeck with a hand on the small of her back. She caught her breath at his touch and hoped he hadn't noticed, but he had. Chakotay wisely said nothing as he smiled behind her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hours later, and the crowd at Sandrine's was finally beginning to thin. The captain was more relaxed than she could remember being in a very long time. Dinner, conversation and the company of her crew had succeeded in making her ship, finally, more like a home.

Strangely, the prospect of remaining on her ship indefinitely didn't bother her as it once had. *You will know* She turned to look at Chakotay, engaged in a heated discussion with B'Elanna. Of course. A friend, someone to share time with. *That's* what she had been searching for.

A wave of relief swept over her and she laughed aloud. How utterly ridiculous to have thought what she did. *For heaven's sake, Kathryn. Letting your imagination run wild.*

At the sound of her laughter, Chakotay turned to her. He was completely unaware of the enraptured look on his face, but B'Elanna had seen it.

*Well,* she thought with a smile, *it seems Tom and Harry may be right after all.*

Janeway and Chakotay settled into an easy pattern. Duty shifts in the morning, all business, followed by a relaxed, friendly evening meal. Without their even being aware, the rest of the crew gradually stopped joining them. Left to their own devices, they passed the hours in easy conversation and animated debate.

Tom, Harry and B'Elanna watched every nuance, every touch between them. Janeway was a physical person, but it seemed to them that her touches were more frequent, more prolonged than necessary when it came to Chakotay.

The friendly camaraderie reached a turning point several months later.

A young couple approached during dinner and asked to speak privately with the captain. Excusing himself, Chakotay went to talk to Harry. From a distance, the topic of conversation carried a serious tone. Some minutes later, the young couple drifted by, lost in each other, oblivious to their surroundings. Returning to the table, Chakotay was disturbed by the look on Janeway's face.

"Come on. Let's get out of here." Chakotay escorted the captain from the holodeck and back to her quarters. The longer the silence stretched, the more concerned he became.

Keying in her security code, Janeway indicated that Chakotay should follow her. After long minutes of staring out the portal at the stars, she turned her gaze to the silent, patient man behind her. With a suspicious brightness in her eyes she whispered, "They want me to marry them."

The breath he had unconsciously held escaped from his lungs in a relieved rush. This was a milestone in the life of Voyager. The first, he suspected, of many. "This is good news. It means the crew is accepting the situation and moving on with their lives."

"Yes...I suppose it does," she answered her voice trailing away as her thoughts once more took over.

"It hurts, doesn't it?" Chakotay queried softly.

Janeway crossed her arms in front of herself and pressed her fingers to her lips. Chakotay had long ago come to recognize her defense mechanisms at work. She did this to prevent her emotions from taking over. He knew that she had been criticized in the past for being "too emotional", "too sensitive". He was thoroughly convinced that it was her "emotions" that had kept them alive this long.

"Silly, isn't it? I can't help thinking about home. I came to terms with my choices long ago. I only hope that Mark..." Her voice broke embarrassingly and Chakotay gave in to his instincts and gathered her close to him.

After a moment's hesitation, she set aside protocol and wrapped her arms around his back, simply glad for the comfort of human contact. It had been so long since she had shared such a basic, necessary element of life with anyone.

"And you feel guilty," he spoke over the top of her head, his breath ruffling her hair. "Guilty because a small part of you is jealous. There's nothing wrong with that, you know. You wouldn't be human if you felt any differently."

Chuckling into his chest, she said, "It's not logical."

Joining in her laughter he replied, "Now you sound like Tuvok." Sliding his hands to her shoulders, he set her away from him. Empathy, and something else she couldn't define, shone in his eyes. "If you want my help with the ceremony, I'd be more than happy to assist."

"Thank you, Commander, For everything."

They regarded each other for a long moment. Kathryn stopped breathing for a moment as he leaned slowly toward her and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "Good night, Captain."

"Good night, Commander," she whispered to his back as the doors closed behind him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The marriage was celebrated a month later. Thanks to some long hours and a great deal of creativity, the holodeck was transformed into a pastoral setting unlike anything ever seen on the Voyager. Paris and Chakotay were responsible, having combined elements of Earth with holo-images captured along their journey in the Delta Quadrant.

Janeway and Chakotay joined forces to perform the ceremony. The Captain made it official, while Chakotay offered his spiritual guidance and blessings. Working together, as they had while writing the ceremony, Janeway and Chakotay had come to a greater understanding of each other. She had a much greater respect of his traditions and values, while he came to see a deep spirituality in her that even *she* wasn't aware of possessing.

In the absence of family, the Captain and Commander Chakotay found themselves filling the roles-- dancing with the bride and groom, offering toasts and good wishes. A high point in the festivities came when Tom Paris took the floor, on behalf of the newlyweds, to offer thanks to the Captain and Chakotay for allowing their marriage. With a gleam of wicked amusement in his eyes, Tom announced that the day would not be complete without the two commanding officers sharing a dance. As Janeway flushed and Chakotay grinned with amusement, Harry Kim groaned audibly, but was halted by B'Elanna's elbow in his ribs.

To not play along would be far worse than dancing one dance and being done with it, so they moved tentatively to the center of the gathering. Janeway had not been this close to Chakotay since the incident in her cabin over a month ago. The touch of his hands on her back was no less shattering now than it had been then. Her heart tripped in her chest as her feet followed suit.

"You're out of practice," Chakotay chided.

"That may be, but I'm also not used to having an audience," she retorted.

"Ignore them. Maybe they'll go away." At that same moment they were both assaulted with images of being like this, together, without the curious eyes of the crew looking on. Chakotay pulled her closer as they lost themselves in the imagery.

Paris, satisfied that his ploy was working, pulled a young ensign onto the dance floor, thus distracting the other guests.

The bride and groom departed to their newly refurbished quarters for several days of off-duty time and the party broke up shortly thereafter. The attending crewmembers went their separate ways, some to duty shifts, others to their cabins. Janeway and Chakotay drifted toward their quarters in companionable silence. Reaching her door first, they paused to say good night. Neither was willing to give up the day, however, and an awkward silence stretched between them.

"Thank you-" they said in concert, effectively breaking the tension around them. "Why don't you come in for a while. I'll use up some replicator rations on something sinful," Janeway said as the door swished open.

"Something sinful? What did you have in mind, Captain?" Chakotay asked in wicked amusement.

"Kathryn."

"Excuse me?"

"My name is Kathryn. It's been three years, Chakotay. Don't you think we can drop the protocol when we're off duty?"

"All right then--Kathryn." Her name passed his lips as easily as if he'd been using it all along, which in reality he had, if only in his mind.

Actually hearing him speak her name broke down the last remaining barrier in Kathryn's mind. She'd fought it, ridiculed it, dismissed it, raged at it. But the undeniable truth was there. It was time and, yes, she 'knew'. The dawning realization on her face was as vivid as a confession. The transparent wonder in her eyes hit him with a force he'd never before experienced.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*She knows* he thought. *She finally understands*.

Finally remembering to breathe, Kathryn inhaled raggedly. Chakotay slowly reached a tentative hand toward her and gently touched her face. "Talk to me, Kathryn."

"How...how long have you known?" she whispered.

Chuckling softly and ducking his head sheepishly he said, "About three years."

"Why--"

"Why didn't I say anything?" he asked as she nodded mutely. "Because it wasn't time."

That word again--*time*.

"You had to arrive at this point on your own. You had to accept yourself and your own feelings first before you could accept mine. My guide--"

"Your *animal* guide told you this?" she said.

"As I once told you, she guides me very well."

"I think my guide tried to tell *me*, but I refused to listen," she said wryly.

"No, you just weren't ready. Sometimes our 'logical' mind doesn't want to hear what's in our heart."

Kathryn laughed softly. "I remember the last time I used that word in front of you. You accused me of sounding like Tuvok."

"Believe me, you're *nothing* like Tuvok."

Chakotay grasped her upper arms and gently pulled her toward him. Kathryn raised her face to his, their lips meeting gently. As his mouth moved over hers, Kathryn relaxed in his arms and gave up all pretense of denial.

This was right. This was perfect.

Eventually giving in to their need for air, they broke apart, breathing heavily.

"What do we do now?" Kathryn asked in distracted innocence.

"Well, first I thought we'd--"

She swatted his shoulder in reproach. "Not that. I meant what do we do about command protocol?"

Chuckling at her embarrassment Chakotay said, "I thought we'd establish our own protocol. After all, there's no one out here to challenge it. Besides, you're still the Captain, I'm still the First Officer. It seems reasonable that we keep to ourselves."

"Ohhh," she said slowly, barely hiding the smile that threatened her composure. "I understand. That way we won't run the risk of breaking protocol with the *rest* of the crew." Chakotay nodded in affirmation as Kathryn said, "My, what wonderful ideas you have, Commander."

"I have more," he said, once again pulling her into his embrace.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spirits were high on the bridge the next morning. Nothing seemed to ruffle the Captain, and Chakotay, well, Chakotay just smiled a lot. None of the crew seemed to know what had brought about the change.

Except Tom Paris.

He alone had witnessed the kiss shared by the Captain and the Commander just as the turbolift doors had opened onto the bridge. *Tommy-boy, you've done it again.* He smiled to himself, laying in the new course and proceeding toward home.

THE END

6/95



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