Ghost

Summary: “I doubt you’ll even notice I’m not there.”

 

Characters: Chakotay, Janeway, Tuvok, Torres, Paris

Codes: Janeway & Chakotay, Chakotay & Tuvok

 

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

 

Notes: Season 6 Chakotay. Written for XOs for the XOs.

Rated K

“Torres to Commander Chakotay.”

Chakotay picked up a padd from the towering stack on his desk and scrolled through the first few pages. It was the Doctor’s weekly report on sickbay incidents, treatments and supply usage. The captain would want a summary at tomorrow’s breakfast meeting, but he could deal with that a little later.

He set it aside.

“Chakotay, respond.”

The dilithium report, however – the next one on the stack – that was urgent, but when wasn’t Voyager’s dilithium situation urgent? The warp drive seemed to be perpetually on the verge of starvation. Maybe he should task Torres and her crew with finding an alternate source of propulsion – again.

“Chakotay, we have a velocity date in holodeck two and you’re already ten minutes late. Where are you?”

Speaking of Torres … He tapped his combadge. “I’m here, B’Elanna. Sorry, but I’m caught up with work. Can we reschedule?”

“That’s what you said last week. And the week before. How much work can one man use as an excuse?”

Chakotay eyed the cluttered surface of his desk. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“You know what they say about all work and no play …”

“You’ll have to find someone else to play with, Lieutenant. This dull boy has hours’ worth of reports to read.”

There was a brief pause, and B’Elanna’s voice came through sounding softer. “Are you all right, Chakotay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Well, can I do anything to help?”

“Write shorter reports?” He meant it as a joke, but it came out a little sourer than he’d intended. “Sorry. No, I’m fine.”

“If you’re sure …” When he didn’t answer, B’Elanna continued, “Tom’s running a movie marathon in holodeck one. Why don’t you join us later? I’ll save you a seat.”

“Thanks, but I doubt I’ll make it. Go enjoy your evening, Lieutenant. Chakotay out.”

After almost three hours, the to-do pile was significantly shorter – though not completely demolished – and Chakotay’s eyes burned. His gut burned, too. He’d unwisely helped himself to one of Kathryn’s favourite coffee blends in hope the caffeine would kick his brain into high gear, and now he had heart palpitations.

Exhausted as he was, he could tell he wouldn’t sleep for some time, so he fastened his uniform jacket and set off on a walking tour of the ship.

As he passed the mess hall on his way to the turbolift, the doors opened and several crew members spilled out, laughing and talking over each other. Chakotay was forced to halt abruptly to avoid being mown down by Hargrove and an ebullient Chell.

“Hey, watch it,” he snapped before he could stop his tongue.

“Sorry, sir,” Hargrove mumbled.

Chakotay watched them as they moved down the corridor. He knew he should feel shamed at his bearishness, and he did, a little. But what did it matter? The crew was as stuck with him as he was with this life.

Jenny Delaney had slowed her pace, and as Hargrove caught up to her, she linked her arm through his and they bent their heads together. A sharp pang of envy twisted in Chakotay’s chest. They didn’t seem too dispirited at the life they’d been stuck with.

He trudged on.

Billy Telfer was wiping sweat from his neck with a nervous and grimy hand when Chakotay encountered him in section 9C, jigging from foot to foot as he waited for the turbolift.

“Something wrong, Billy?”

“No sir,” Telfer all but yelped. He pulled his hand from the back of his neck and cradled it under the opposite armpit. “Nothing to worry about.”

Chakotay gave him a narrow glance. “Where are you headed?”

Telfer seemed to shrink a little.

“Sickbay?” Chakotay hazarded, and was unsurprised at Telfer’s sheepish nod. “What did you do?”

“Look at this rash!” Telfer thrust his hand under Chakotay’s nose. “I don’t know if I got it from the radiation in the energy matrix or if it’s an allergy to the bioneural fluid …”

“You’ve been working on the gelpacks again, right?”

“Yes sir. Do you think it’s contagious? Or fatal?”

“I’m pretty sure you’ll be okay,” Chakotay said dryly. “Best go to sickbay just in case, though.”

“Yes sir. Thank you, sir.”

Chakotay elected not to follow him into the turbolift. The Jeffries tubes might be cramped, but at least they’d be quiet.

But by the time he’d climbed down to deck six, he’d begun to wonder what was so appealing about silence and solitude. He climbed out into the corridor and found Seven and Icheb in animated discussion over a gelpack they’d extracted from the energy grid.

“What’s up?” he asked as he approached, and if his geniality was slightly forced, it was unlikely that either ex-Borg would mind.

“Commander,” Seven acknowledged briefly, and continued her densely technical conversation with Icheb, who’d barely even glanced at Chakotay.

“Seven, report.” There was no mistaking the sharpness in his tone. Both Seven and Icheb turned to him, hands clasped behind backs.

“The bioneural gelpacks appear to be suffering from a virus.”

“Again?”

“I do not believe it is a terminal condition, Commander. I was about to order Icheb to bypass the affected circuitry while I take a sample to engineering for analysis.”

“And I was about to suggest to Seven that we take it to sickbay instead.” Icheb looked flushed and mulish, Chakotay noted. “I believe I can bio-engineer a retrovirus.”

“You think you have a cure?”

“Unlikely,” Seven said sharply.

Icheb opened his mouth, and Chakotay held up a hand. “All right. Why don’t you each take a gelpack away to play with, and whoever fixes theirs first gets bragging rights with the captain?”

The pair stopped glaring at each other and turned to glare at Chakotay.

“Just a suggestion,” he said, hiding his smirk as he moved past them.

His amusement didn’t last long. A few metres along the corridor, Tom Paris emerged from the ‘lift and fell into step with him.

“Heading for the holodeck?”

“No.”

“Aw, c’mon, Chakotay. It’s movie night. B’Elanna said you might –”

“I’m busy.”

“Busy storming around like a bad-tempered bear, yeah …” Paris’ voice trailed off as Chakotay came to a halt. “Okay, okay, sorry. But you should come. It’ll be fun.”

“Thanks,” Chakotay calmed himself with effort, “but no thanks.”

“We’ll miss you.”

“I doubt you’ll even notice I’m not there.”

He left Paris at the holodeck doors, put his head down and headed blindly for the nearest Jeffries tube. Touring the ship wasn’t helping. It was better for everyone that he just went back to his quarters.

He stripped down to his shorts, sank cross-legged to the carpet and unfolded his medicine bundle, placing his hand on the akoonah. Breathed slowly, deliberately, calming his heart rate.

“Akoochee-”

“Tuvok to Chakotay.”

Chakotay ground his teeth. If he ignored it, maybe Tuvok would get the hint.

“Tuvok to Commander Chakotay. Please respond.”

When had a Vulcan ever taken a hint? Sighing, Chakotay opened his eyes and tapped the combadge he'd laid on the floor beside him. “What can I do for you, Tuvok?”

“I wish to speak with you concerning a personnel matter.”

“Is it urgent?” Irritation seeped into Chakotay's voice.

“I believe it is becoming so.”

Chakotay pinched the bridge of his nose. “All right. But you’ll have to report to my quarters, because I’m back on duty in less than six hours and I’m too damned tired to put on my damned uniform.”

He’d tried to lighten his tone, but couldn’t stifle the bitter turn to it. It was clear Tuvok had noticed, too.

“Understood, Commander.” Voice grave, almost concerned. “On my way.”

Chakotay wrapped up his medicine bundle and pushed up from the floor to stash it away.

“Computer, herbal tea blend Chakotay gamma,” he instructed, snagging his T-shirt from where he’d tossed it on the couch that morning. By the time he’d pulled it on, his tea was waiting. He sipped, wishing it made him feel the way coffee evidently affected the captain, but either it was the wrong drink or he was the wrong person.

He couldn’t help a dark chuckle at that.

The door chimed.

“Come in, Tuvok,” he called. “Can I get you a drink?”

He expected the Vulcan to decline.

“Thank you,” Tuvok responded. “I would enjoy some tea.”

Chakotay raised his eyebrows. “Computer, Vulcan spiced tea.” He handed Tuvok the drink and waved him to the couch. “All right, Tuvok, what’s so urgent that you felt the need to bail me up after hours?”

Once again, he strove for a hint of humour and failed.

“I am concerned about the wellbeing of a member of this crew.” Tuvok cradled his cup in strong, elegant hands. “This individual has become increasingly withdrawn and short-tempered. He appears to suffer from acute insomnia. Replicator records and anecdotal evidence indicate waning appetite. He declines invitations to social events, is disinterested in physical exercise, and displays behaviour consistent with someone suffering from depression.”

Chakotay frowned. “Is this someone I’ve counselled? Never mind,” he cut himself off, realising that while Tuvok undoubtedly knew the answer, protocol ruled that they shouldn’t discuss it. “Has he been to see the Doctor?”

“I do not believe so.”

“Does this crewman report to you?”

“No.”

“Have you spoken to his senior officer, then?”

“I have. She is also concerned.”

She. So it was one of Seven’s or B’Elanna’s teams. Chakotay tried to imagine Seven worrying about Gerron’s emotional state, or B’Elanna giving air time to Mortimer Harren’s bursts of tantrum. Unlikely, unless –

“Has this crewman’s work performance suffered?”

“It has not. He continues to perform his duties consistently and competently.”

“Flying under the radar, hmm?”

“On the contrary.” Tuvok regarded him. “This individual is particularly prominent. In fact, I believe that may be a contributing factor to his general malaise.”

“How’s that?”

“His duties are many and varied and extraordinarily time-consuming, while his unique position carries great responsibility for the safety and emotional wellbeing of the crew. In short, he has little time for recreation or rest, and his opportunities for emotional restoration are equally depleted.”

Chakotay frowned. Tuvok was right. Why hadn’t he seen it? Had he been so wrapped up in himself that he hadn’t even noticed someone close to him was suffering?

“Thank you, Tuvok,” he said. “I’ll make sure Neelix gets extra time off next shore leave.”

Tuvok levelled a look at him. “I am not referring to Mr Neelix.”

“You’re not?”

“I am not. The officer in question performs more varied and demanding duties, and is even more visible, than he.”

Preoccupied, exhausted, it took embarrassingly long for the penny to drop. “Me?”

“Indeed.”

Anger rose in Chakotay’s chest, hot and seething. He shot abruptly up from the couch and began to pace.

“Visible?” he burst out. “Nobody sees me, Tuvok. I’m nothing but a wailing wall to the crew and an endless source of coffee rations to the captain. I spend my days shuffling padds and saying ‘yes ma’am’. Every night I lie awake waiting for a red alert and every morning I get up and do it all over again.”

From the corner of his eye he noticed Tuvok had risen as well, and he rounded on him.

“And what’s the point of it all?” Chakotay demanded. “What do I really achieve? What mark do I make, and who would miss me if I was gone?” He stopped, shoulders slumped. “I might as well not be here.”

“Commander,” a twitch of discomfort crossed Tuvok’s face, “Chakotay. Would you like to … talk about it?”

For the first time in – days, weeks? longer than he could remember – Chakotay laughed.

“You look like you’d rather face a firing squad, Tuvok. Thanks for the offer, but no. I really don’t want to talk about it.” He drew himself up straight. “Dismissed, Commander.”

“Aye, sir.”

Chakotay waited until the door slid shut behind the Vulcan before he let his posture sag again. Tugging off his T-shirt, he sank back down to the couch and rested his head on the back of it.

He waited for the dark swirl of his thoughts to settle in his stomach like bile, keeping him wakeful and churning through yet another restless night, but instead he was drawn down, down, deep into the grasp of exhausted sleep.

It was the chime at his door that woke him.

Shivering, disoriented and aching all over, Chakotay cleared his throat. “Computer, time?”

~The time is 0715 hours.~

“What?” The number didn’t make any sense. The alarm should have woken him at 0600, if he’d even slept –

The chime rang out again.

“Computer, who’s at the door?”

~Captain Janeway.~

“Shit!” He bolted to his feet, groaning at the stiff kink in his neck, and yanked on his discarded T-shirt. “Come,” he called as the chime sounded a third time.

Kathryn Janeway strode into his quarters, hair smooth and pips shining. “Chakotay, why didn’t you –”

She stopped as his state of undress registered, eyeing him.

“Overslept?” she asked dryly.

“Sorry Captain.” He ran an awkward hand over his ruffled hair. “I guess I did.”

She tilted her head to the side and observed him, in that way she had that always made him shift on his feet.

“We had a breakfast meeting,” he remembered suddenly. “Captain, I’m so sorry. If you’ll give me a minute to dress …”

He hurried into his bedroom and pulled on a fresh uniform before she could reply. When he returned, she was still standing in the centre of his living room. She turned from the viewport to look at him as he approached.

“Coffee?” he avoided her eye, moving quickly to the replicator.

“Yes, but we’ll use my rations today,” she replied. “Authorisation Janeway gamma three.”

“Two coffees, black,” Chakotay instructed.

“No cream or sugar,” Janeway mused. “You really must be tired.”

He didn’t vocalise the response that sprang to his lips: that tired had been his natural state for so long he couldn’t remember life being any other way.

“I don’t suppose I can talk you into actually eating something?” he asked instead.

“Actually, today you can,” Janeway responded, settling on the couch as he brought over her coffee. “Feel like sharing some fruit and hot rolls?”

“Sure.”

Balancing the plate in one hand, Chakotay collected a padd from his desk and dropped onto the couch beside her.

“Engineering report first, or sickbay?” he asked.

“Neither.” Janeway cradled her coffee in both hands and leaned back against the cushion. “Why don’t we start with crew morale today?”

“We usually save that for after dinner.”

“Nothing wrong with eating dessert first once in a while.”

Suspicion bloomed in Chakotay’s chest. “Tuvok spoke to you, didn’t he?”

“He did.”

“He shouldn’t have bothered you.”

“Oh, he absolutely should have.” Janeway set down her coffee and leaned forward, one hand alighting on Chakotay’s knee. “But I don’t consider it a bother that he alerted me to the fact that once again, I’ve been taking you for granted.”

“Captain …”

“Kathryn,” she corrected. “I’m your friend, Chakotay. Though I’ve also been remiss in my duty to you as your captain.”

“No, you haven’t. Your job is –”

“Exacting, difficult and burdensome, yes,” she interrupted. “But sometimes I think yours is even more so. You carry the weight of the entire crew’s welfare, and I certainly don’t make your job any easier. Don’t think I haven’t noticed,” she continued, holding up a hand as he began to protest, “just because you never complain about it.”

The weight of her hand on his knee was slight, but it carried a warmth that began to spread into Chakotay’s chest.

“I see you, Chakotay,” she said softly, eyes gentle and shining. “Even when it seems as though I’m looking through you, I see you.”

A smile curved Chakotay’s lips.

“Now there’s something I haven’t seen in a while,” Janeway said lightly, her free hand briefly cupping his cheek. “I hadn’t realised how much I’ve missed it.”

She dropped her hand and stood, gesturing him back down as he began to rise.

“Take the day off,” she told him. “Captain’s orders.”

“Kathryn, I can’t –”

“You can,” she corrected, “and you will. You’ll spend today doing exactly as you please without disturbance, and at 1900 hours you’ll join me for dinner in my quarters. Understood?”

His grin widened. “Yes ma’am.”

“Good,” she said firmly. “And Chakotay?”

“Yes?”

“Make sure I see that smile when you report for dinner tonight.”

Chakotay was still smiling long after she’d gone.

© 2021 by Mia Cooper