Bugs

Summary: The captain and commander take some time out for a little team bonding. All's well that ends well... right?

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay

 

Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.

 

Notes: Helen8462 and I have embarked on a fic-prompt challenge. She threw down this first-line prompt for me: They’d both agreed it was just for one night.

Then she added Difficulty Level Delta-47 by declaring that I couldn’t go for the obvious plot.

In any case, this fic will also solve a long-standing mystery in series canon: Why were Janeway and Chakotay the only ones to be infected and stranded on New Earth? Here goes.

Rated K

They’d both agreed it was just for one night. Shift cover had been negotiated, communicators deactivated, marshmallows replicated. She knew the ship would be just fine – Tuvok would take care of it – and yet she was dithering.

Chakotay watched her from the transporter pad with mild exasperation. “Captain, if we don’t go soon we’ll be setting the tents up in the dark.”

“All right, all right,” she grumbled, stepping up beside him. “I’m ready.”

“Sure you’ve got enough creature comforts?” He sent a sidelong glance toward the pile of luggage at her feet.

“Don’t push it, Commander. You’re the one who insisted on camping – well, this is how I camp.”

“In the old days they called that ‘glamping’.”

She shot him a dark look and turned back to the transporter operator. “Energise.”

They rematerialised in a grassy glade, and Kathryn looked around at the thickly clustered trees, the high rugged mountains in the distance. The sun was shining, the air was fresh and warm, and she felt some of the tension bleed from her shoulders.

“Very nice, Commander,” she smiled at him. “Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all.”

“Does that mean you’ll take your full three days of shore leave?” he grinned back.

She huffed. “I have far too much work to do. And I think one night of roughing it will be enough for me.”

“Roughing it, huh?” Chakotay slung his backpack off his shoulder and crouched to rummage through it. “Let’s see, we have pillows and mattresses, a casserole we only have to heat and eat, two bottles of wine …”

Kathryn had been watching him avidly as he unpacked. “Please tell me there’s coffee in there, Chakotay.”

He raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure I heard the Doctor order you to cut down on caffeine.”

She folded her arms and stared at him, and he ducked his head to hide a grin. “Fortunately, your first officer knows who’s boss,” he added, and pulled a flask out from the depths of the backpack.

Kathryn snatched it and opened it immediately, inhaling in delight as the aroma of fresh coffee wafted out. “Bless you, Chakotay. Maybe this camping thing won’t be so bad after all.”

 

===0===


They’d wandered some way from the transport site, through the woods and into a valley with a pretty little river winding through it, where they finally decided to make camp. The tents were pitched, the fire built, the casserole eaten and the sun had almost set … and Kathryn was not happy.

“This,” she announced through gritted teeth as she slapped yet another bloodthirsty bug from her arm, “is exactly why I hate camping.”

Chakotay passed her the insect spray. “Reminds me of trekking through the rainforest when I was a teenager. Although at least there aren’t any snakes here. Or large predators.”

“I’ll bet you loved it,” Kathryn muttered, spritzing herself with the bug spray.

“I hated it,” Chakotay chuckled, slapping at an insect feasting on his neck. “You think we’re roughing it now? Try eating grubs and sleeping on bare rain-soaked ground next to a swamp. And that’s without the lectures on Native American tradition, and my father’s constant disapproval of a son who never measured up.”

His tone turned a little sour at the end of his speech, and Kathryn reached out impulsively to lay a gentle hand on his. “If your father saw you now, he’d be so very proud of you.”

He looked at her, surprised. “I … thank you, Captain. That means a lot.”

“Surely you don’t doubt that?” She curled her fingers around his hand and felt him squeeze back lightly. “You’re a remarkable person, Chakotay. I couldn’t have asked for a better first officer, or a finer friend.”

Chakotay’s gaze dropped to their joined hands, then dragged slowly up to meet hers. His thumb moved gently over her wrist and she suppressed a shiver.

“Well,” she said, awkwardly drawing her hand back, “it’s getting late. I think we should both get some sleep.”

“Of course.” He stood politely as she got to her feet. “Sleep well, Captain.”

“Yes,” she answered, suddenly unable to look at him, “you too.”

 

===0===


Kathryn lay on her pallet, scratching absently at the welts on her arms and listening to the soft trickle of the river and the occasional chirp of a night-waking bird.

Maybe it was because she was used to the low hum of Voyager’s engines. Maybe it was the scent of fresh, green-tinged air, or the irksome whine of the ever-present insects, but she was finding sleep elusive.

Maybe, she admitted to herself, it was what she’d seen in her first officer’s eyes when she’d rashly, impulsively, taken hold of his hand.

Damn it. Thinking about that was dangerous. He was dangerous. And this was the last thing she needed.

Restless, she kicked off the covers and pushed her way out of the tent. It was still balmy outside – the temperature had barely dropped with the sunset – and she wandered down to the river in her thin cotton pyjamas, wading in ankle-deep.

The planet’s lone moon hung low over the nearest mountain ridge and she found herself gazing up at it. It was blue-white and cratered like Earth’s moon, and the sight of it almost doubled her over with a pang of homesickness.

She squared her shoulders and firmed her lips … and then let out her breath on a sigh, slumping onto a flat rock at the river’s edge. What did it matter if she threw herself a little pity party? Nobody was watching –

“Captain?”

Kathryn let out a squeak and jerked around to face her first officer as he emerged from his tent.

“Sorry.” Chakotay’s voice was low as he took a tentative step toward her. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

She pasted a smile on her face. “You’re not. I was just –”

“Having trouble sleeping?” He pushed a hand through his rumpled hair and she couldn’t help following the movement. “That’s what happens when you drink three cups of coffee before bedtime.”

She humphed. “You really are worse than the Doctor.”

He grinned. “Mind if I join you?”

“Of course not.” She shuffled over to make room for him on her rock. He settled beside her, his bare arm brushing hers, and that annoying shiver prickled through her again. She edged away.

“This place is beautiful,” Chakotay said in his mellow voice. “We could almost be on Earth.”

Kathryn’s breath gusted out before she could catch herself. “It’s not Earth, though, is it?”

“Homesick?” He was looking at her sympathetically.

“No more than usual,” she lied.

The quirk of his eyebrow told her he didn’t believe her. “Are you sorry you came?”

“Did I have a choice?” She smiled to soften her tart tone. “No, I’m not sorry, Chakotay. You were right – I did need a break.”

“There’s still time to change your mind about not staying longer.”

“No. It’s a lovely planet for a vacation, but the longer we stay, the longer it’ll take to get home.”

He was quiet for a moment. “I know how focused you are on getting home, Captain, but the destination isn’t everything. Maybe you should slow down, relax every now and then. Live in the moment. What’s the point of the journey if you don’t take time to find the beauty in it?”

Suddenly chilled, she pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. “I can’t do that, Chakotay. It’s my fault we’re stuck out here, and it’s my responsibility to get us all back home. I can’t afford to lose that focus.”

“Earth isn’t home for all of us,” he said so mildly she almost missed the weight of it. “Some of our crew have more of a home on Voyager than they ever had back in the Alpha quadrant.”

Kathryn stiffened. “What are you trying to tell me, Commander? That you think we should give up? Settle a planet and live out the rest of our lives in the Delta quadrant?”

“No,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “I’m just saying that the day might come when we have to make that choice, and I’d hate to see what that would do to you if you’re not able to accept it.”

Furious, she leapt to her feet. “Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, Commander. But I will get us home, and I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your doubts to yourself from now on!”

She strode away from him and into the forest.

“Captain, wait,” he called, but she ignored him, pushing through the trees as angry tears blurred her eyes.

 

===0===


“Relax,” she muttered to herself, dashing the irritating moisture from her eyes as she stomped deeper into the forest. “Live in the moment. Who does he think he is? Ow!”

Clutching her skinned knee, she rolled carefully to a sitting position and glared at the root that had reached out to trip her. She’d ripped a hole in the knee of her pyjama pants, too. And it was her favourite pair.

Kathryn dropped her head to her folded arms and indulged in a few moments of sniffling. She felt a little better once she’d wiped her tears away. She was still mad as hell at Chakotay, though.

Although, maybe he did have the tiniest bit of a point. She’d never baulked at diverting from their course to explore an anomaly or answer a distress call, but stopping for shore leave? Taking time out for herself? She never really had seen the value in it. Why visit the holodeck when she could be studying stellar data or helping out in Engineering? And as for deliberately delaying their journey just so people could take a few days of downtime… Forget it. A few days’ vacation was a few days wasted, as far as she was concerned.

Maybe that was the wrong attitude, she conceded grudgingly. Sure, she was the captain; she was supposed to be tireless and driven. But she couldn’t expect the rest of her crew to live that way. They had a right to leisure time and fresh air and fun and companionship. Even if she didn’t.

Chakotay was right. And she owed him an apology.

Now she felt even worse.

And those damned bugs were back with a vengeance. Slapping ferociously at the exposed parts of her skin, Kathryn limped back to the campsite.

 

===0===


Chakotay’s tent was zipped up tight when she arrived, and now that her rage had been dispelled she felt limp with fatigue. Telling herself she’d apologise in the morning, Kathryn fell onto her pallet and sank at last into sleep.

She dreamed of home, and of Mark, smiling indulgently at her across the breakfast table as she mainlined her coffee and frantically scanned a padd.

“Relax, Kathryn,” he was saying. “The problem is in the warp nacelle assembly, but B’Elanna will find it.”

“But what if she doesn’t?” she asked him fretfully. “What if we run out of uniforms? Replicator energy is low. Should I cut off my hair?”

“You’re perfect just the way you are,” he soothed. She felt his hand on her shoulder, warm and strong, shaking her slightly. “Don’t forget me, Kath.”

“I could never,” she whispered, cupping his cheek. His expression was intent and she felt suddenly fearful.

“Captain,” said Mark, shaking her. “Captain, wake up.”

She bolted upright, and Chakotay sat back on his heels just in time to avoid her headbutting him in the jaw.

“What?” she gasped.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said. “You were having a nightmare.”

She dropped her face into her hands. “God, I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

“No. It’s almost morning, anyway.” Chakotay touched her gently on the shoulder, and she remembered the feeling of his hand cupping it, warm and strong. “Here, this should help.”

And he held out a steaming flask of coffee.

 

===0===


“Hungry?”

“Actually, I am,” Kathryn confessed as she hunkered down beside Chakotay.

He’d spread out a blanket near the firepit he’d built the night before and was digging into one of their packs, unearthing muffins and the strange, sweet purple fruit they’d found on their last away mission.

“No leola root?” she asked archly as he passed her a muffin.

“Don’t speak too soon,” he grinned. “Who knows what Neelix put into these muffins?”

She tried one warily and smiled. “No leola root,” she confirmed.

They ate in companionable silence until after Kathryn’s third cup of coffee, and then she reached over to touch his hand.

“I’m sorry about last night. I overreacted.”

Chakotay gave her a gentle smile. “Apology accepted, Captain.”

As simple as that, she thought, and for a moment she felt weightless.

After they’d rinsed the breakfast plates in the river and tidied away the picnic blanket, Chakotay stood and stretched until his joints popped.

“I think I’ll go for a walk before it gets too hot. Care to join me, Captain?”

She’d been eyeing the river; it was clear and cool, and she was feeling decidedly itchy thanks to all those insect bites. “Actually, I think I’ll stay here and take a dip. We’re due to beam back in a couple of hours, so don’t go too far, Commander.”

He tipped an imaginary hat and ambled off, and Kathryn stripped down to her underwear and waded into the river.

It was divine. The current was lazy, the riverbed lined with soft, fine sand, and after a bit of splashing about she found a comfortable position on a flat rock close to the river’s edge. Submerged to her neck, she leaned her head back and let her thoughts drift.

The sun climbed high over the mountain peaks and sent glittering patterns across the water, and Kathryn watched dreamily as small jewel-coloured insects skimmed across the surface. It really was a paradise, she had to concede. For the first time, she had to admit she was glad she’d been cajoled into taking a break from the ship.

And if she was honest, she couldn’t have picked a better person to spend the day with.

Brushing that thought away before it took her in a direction she tried firmly to avoid, Kathryn pushed away from her rock and swam into the middle of the river, ducking under the surface to wet her hair, and floated slowly back over to the bank. Chakotay would be back any minute now, and the last thing she needed was for him to wander back while she was soaking wet and practically naked –

Oh no, was the only thought in her mind as Chakotay emerged from the woods just as she was wading out of the river, wringing out her hair.

He stumbled to a stop. She froze.

Chakotay made a perfect, military about-turn and disappeared back into the trees, and Kathryn bolted for her tent, hiding her flaming face in her hands.  

 

===0===


They hiked back to the transport site in awkward silence, all their easy camaraderie destroyed in one screwed-up, badly-timed moment.

This is ridiculous, Kathryn fumed as she dumped her pack on the ground, perspiring lightly with heat and embarrassment. He’d seen her in not much more than her underwear before – swimming on the holodeck, once in Sickbay after an away mission gone bad – and it wasn’t as if Chakotay didn’t know she was a woman, for God’s sake.

Although he probably could have done without such a blatant reminder.

“Ready to go, Captain?”

She winced at the forced cheer in his voice and straightened up, brushing irritably at one of those blood-sucking insects, which had returned in full battalion as the day’s humidity increased. “Of course, Commander.”

He nodded, waiting politely for her to tap her combadge and call for transport. Her hand hesitated halfway to her communicator.

“Chakotay,” she said quietly.

“Yes, Captain?”

“I hope,” she stumbled a little, then rallied, “I hope you know how much I appreciate your friendship. I couldn’t have made it this far without you.”

“Thank you, Captain. I … feel the same way.”

Do you? she wondered. Keeping her tone light but deliberate, she went on, “It’s important that we continue to work well together. Don’t you agree? The crew needs a solid command team.”

He was looking at her warily now. “Of course.”

“And I hope,” she pressed on, “that we can continue to support each other, just as we always have. I need to know I can count on you to, uh, keep things running smoothly. And … simply.”

She could see by the change in his eyes that her message had been received. Some of the light seemed to die from them, but he gave her a small smile.

“You can always count on me, Captain.”

“Good,” she nodded. “That’s good, Commander.”

Turning slightly to the side, she tapped her combadge.

“Janeway to Voyager. Two to beam up.”

She felt the tingle of dematerialisation and then her body reformed on the transporter pad.

And all hell broke loose.

A vice reached into her throat and squeezed the breath out of her lungs, and pain ripped through her body. She was vaguely aware of Chakotay collapsing to the pad beside her, but she couldn’t spare the energy to reach for him through the white haze of agony.

Through the blood pounding in her ears she could hear the transporter operator’s panicked voice – “Captain, Commander! I’m beaming you directly to Sickbay!”

And then she knew no more.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper