Pressure

Summary: Captain Chakotay's Starfleet crew and Kathryn Janeway's Maquis have merged into one crew aboard the Federation starship Voyager, stranded 70,000 light years from their homes. The command team must find a way to reconcile their past relationship. Old betrayals, new attractions and the dangers of an unknown quadrant are brought into play when the one crewmember who belongs nowhere is caught up in an interstellar conspiracy.

 

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Paris, Kim, Torres, Kes, Tuvok, EMH, VOY crew

Codes: Janeway/Paris, Janeway/Chakotay, Kim/Torres

 

Disclaimer: A company named Paramount would likely be disturbed about my borrowing its characters. But it's not fattening my purse.

 

Related episodes: Caretaker and Ex Post Facto.

Rated T

Chapter One

Stardate 48319.5
 


"I am not going to wear these Starfleet pyjamas!"

The red and black fabric skidded across his desk, followed by the double-thud of a pair of boots. Chakotay bit back on a sigh and rubbed at his forehead again, more forcefully this time. Reluctantly, he stood to face her. She wore nothing but the grey tank and knickers which constituted standard Starfleet undergarments; he'd ordered her tattered Maquis clothes to be recycled. Had she stormed through the halls of the ship like this?

"On the contrary, Kathryn. You will wear this uniform unless you are off-duty, and you will wear it with good grace. You will perform your duties to the best of your ability. And you will follow my orders at all times."

Blue-grey eyes flashed defiance. "Listen to me, Captain. When I left Starfleet a year ago I swore I'd never kowtow to another glorified dictator in military uniform. And I sure as hell won't sacrifice my principles for you."

Chakotay watched her silently. She flushed. Shrill echoes of her anger died away.

He was moving around the desk towards her. She had to raise her head to meet his eyes. His were clouded with fatigue.

He was too close. She backed away a step, hating herself for it.

"I'm not asking you to sacrifice your principles. I'm asking for your help. We need you, Kathryn. We need - I need someone I can trust."

She snorted. "Since when have you ever trusted me, Chakotay? Did you trust me when you tracked me to the Badlands? Did you trust me over on the Array, when you kept your phaser pointed at my back?" She laughed without humour. "Think I didn't notice?"

"Kathryn." He was moving close again. "Kate -"

"No." She wrenched away. "Don't bother with the sweet-talk, Captain. You don't trust me, and you never have. And making me wear this uniform won't change that."

He looked at her coldly. "I thought you'd learned by now to pick your battles, Kathryn. Despite what you seem to think, I'm not your enemy."

"Oh, no. You were only following orders, weren't you, Chakotay? Hunt down the Maquis terrorists and haul them back to a nice little Federation penal colony where they can't do any more damage to your precious peace treaty. Christ!" She wanted to explode. "Did you even go to Dorvan V after the massacre? Did you see what they did to your home? To your family? Did you care?"

She'd wounded him. She watched his face. His eyes were shutting down. Before she could stop herself she'd reached out to him. "Chakotay, I'm -"

"Sorry. I know. For God's sake, Kate ..." He sighed. "I'm sorry, too. For tracking you down. For placing Tuvok on your ship. For stranding us here - stranding you here. But you know I had no choice."

She snatched her hand back just before she touched him. "There is always a choice."

"Fine. Then accept mine."

Kathryn almost laughed. "Do I have a choice?"

Chakotay's mouth curled. "Sure you do. You can choose to be a martyr. You can scrub the warp plasma manifolds or cool your heels in the brig for the next seventy-five years. You can make this difficult when it doesn't have to be. You can fight me every step of the long way home. Or -" he smiled - "or, you can accept my decision and stand by my side as my First Officer."

"And follow your orders? Uphold your Starfleet ideals? Ask my crew to do the same, when you know how much they'll chafe against it?"

"How much they'll chafe against it all depends on you."

She bent her head. "I can't ask that of them, Chakotay. Starfleet - the Federation - betrayed them. They've lost their homes and families, too -"

"And so has everybody on this ship! Kathryn, listen to me. We are seventy thousand light years from the Federation. What matters now is that we stand together. That we're strong, together." His dark eyes pleaded with her. "You know it's the right thing to do."

"The right thing to do," she echoed, once more shaking with fury. "How very Starfleet of you. Was it right to sign that treaty with Cardassia? To condemn whole planets to their tender mercies?" She was screaming into his stony face. "Don't talk to me about right and wrong, Chakotay! You have no right."

He moved so swiftly he was almost a blur, gripping her naked upper arms, holding her tighter when she tried to struggle. She'd forgotten that - panther-like, his size belied his grace. She stopped struggling, watched him warily. Chakotay said, "Put on that uniform."

"I won't."

"You will." He let her go and flexed his fingers, trying not to think of the way her skin had felt. He snagged the uniform from his desk and pushed it into her arms. "Get dressed."

Kathryn shook her head and he averted his eyes from the swish of her hair against her shoulder. She was still staring at him mulishly.

"Fine. I'll dress you myself." Chakotay made to take the uniform.

 

She hung on. "Get away from me."

 

His hands closed over hers.

 

Her skin burned. She dropped her gaze. "All right. I'll put it on."

She turned her back to him, stepped into the trousers, pulled on the boots, fastened the jacket, scraped her hair into a twist behind her head. She could feel his eyes. She could almost feel his hands. She turned to face him. He looked quickly away.

"Satisfied?" Kathryn planted hands on hips. Chakotay stepped toward her.

"Kathryn Janeway, I hereby award you the rank and position of Commander, First Officer of the Federation starship, USS Voyager." He fastened her rank pin onto her collar, meeting steely eyes. "Report to the bridge at once."

"And if I don't?" Trying to control her breathing.

"Then report to the brig instead. This discussion is terminated. Dismissed."

She didn't move.

He glared at her. "That, you might remember, is the Starfleet word for get out."

And the new Commander Janeway turned smartly on her heel, and headed for the bridge.

 

=/\=


Well, wasn't this a pretty state of affairs.

Commander Janeway glanced around the mess hall, scowling, as much from the sight of her former crew decked out in Starfleet black as from the poison that Talaxian had the nerve to call coffee. She leaned against the wall and wondered if she looked as out of place as she felt. The doors swished open and despite herself, Kathryn Janeway straightened to attention.

You could hardly call it walking. He paced into the room, an animal on the prowl, his stride relaxed. He looked at ease. She knew better. She could see the long hard muscles moving underneath that uniform. He was always alert. Red alert. She looked away.

"May I have your attention, please."

The strained hubbub of conversation ceased. Chakotay's gaze encompassed the room. Starfleet on the left. Maquis on the right. He'd known immediately where she stood.

"Commander Janeway."

Coolly she left the safety of the wall and stalked toward him. Eyes bored into her back. She didn't twitch.

"Captain."

He smiled, but there was warning in his eyes. He didn't need to raise his voice; he had their complete attention.

"I know you're all feeling the strain of the past few days, and I can't promise that we have an easy road ahead of us. You all know how far we have to go. But I can promise you that I will do everything in my power to get this crew home." He paused. Janeway schooled her face; what a showman. He continued.

"Out here, we'll be facing challenges we never dreamed of. We'll be fighting against unknown odds, meeting species we never knew existed. But together we stand a far better chance of succeeding." Again he stopped, and his gaze levelled left, then right. "I know we have our - differences. But an integrated crew - a Starfleet crew - can make this work. We'll face those challenges together. One crew. One family."

Chakotay turned and gestured Janeway forward. "Those of you who were Maquis may find this a difficult transition, and I will do everything within my power to help you with that. As such, my first decision has been to make your former captain my First Officer. Commander Janeway and I are in complete agreement on this, and I want you all to follow her lead." He smiled, and she watched as most - Starfleet and Maquis alike - smiled back involuntarily. He ruled with charm. He always had. She raised her chin.

"Commander Janeway knows your skills better than I do yet, so she will give you your duty assignments. Like you, this ship lost several of her crew when we were pulled into the Delta quadrant, and we need replacements quickly. I'm sorry there isn't more time for us all to get used to this. But I have every confidence that we can combine our talents and our expertise and get this ship back to Federation space. One more thing." Chakotay grinned again. "This mission will be twofold. We'll be scouring space for anything to get us back to the Alpha quadrant faster, but we'll also be on a mission of exploration. This is a unique chance to explore a region of space we've never seen before. It'll be exciting. And it will be fun."

The grin deepened. Janeway watched the dimples form and caught her breath involuntarily. He was speaking again.

"I know you'll make me proud."

He turned to her. She forced her lips into the expected smile. Straightened her shoulders. Stood by his side. They looked back at her, waiting. She didn't know what to say. She said, "Well, go on, then. It's supposed to be a party."

The tension broke; the crew's attention turned away. She looked up at Chakotay. He was smiling and his eyes were soft. "Thank you," he said quietly.

"For what?"

"For -" he halted. He gestured vaguely. "For standing with me."

Blue eyes met his own and he couldn't read her expression. "Of course, Captain," she replied.

 

=/\=


No Kes with wide-eyed sympathy; no Seska with unconcealed contempt. He sighed in relief. "Computer, activate emergency medical holographic program."

The Doctor materialised behind his right shoulder, making him jump. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

"Hi, Doc. Not exactly an emergency, but -" The newly-promoted Lieutenant Paris gestured to his throbbing eye.

The holodoc raised an eyebrow and indicated he should sit on a bio-bed. "Walked into a wall, Lieutenant?"

"Might as well've." Paris winced as the doctor efficiently and without gentleness probed the puffy, reddened skin. "Ensign Bronowski's built like a bulkhead."

"Am I to understand that you have been ... brawling?"

"Ow!" Paris glared. "Take it easy, will you?"

The Doctor gave him a sour look, selecting a dermal regenerator.

"I wasn't brawling," Paris continued. "I guess Bronowski just didn't much like the look of my face."

"So he thought he'd arrange you a new one?" The Doctor tapped his commbadge. "Sickbay to Bridge."

"What are you doing?" asked Paris, alarmed.

"Reporting this incident to the Captain."

"No, don't -"

~Chakotay here. What is it, Doctor?~

"Mr Paris has just walked in here with an aggravated contusion of the optical cavity, Captain. It appears to have been the result of a -" he regarded the helmsman distastefully - "disagreement with another crewman. I assumed you'd want to know."

There was a pause. ~Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate you keeping me informed. Please ask Mr Paris to report to my ready room as soon as you've finished with him.~

"Oh, thanks a lot, Doc." Paris jumped off the bio-bed. "Can I go now?"

"Certainly. I'm sure the Captain is expecting you." The Doctor smirked.

 

=/\=


"Come in."

Paris stepped warily into the ready room. "You wanted to see me, Captain?"

Chakotay sighed. "Take a seat, Mr Paris." He waited till the helmsman obeyed, then steepled his hands before him. "Want to tell me what happened?"

Paris cleared his throat. "It wasn't a big deal, sir. Just a - misunderstanding."

"Which was resolved by you volunteering your head as a punching bag?"

"You should see the other guy," he joked feebly.

Chakotay levelled his eyes at him. "Go on."

"Captain -" he stopped. Tried again. "Sir, you know I'm not exactly popular with certain people on this ship. Okay, with anyone on this ship," he admitted. "The Maquis think I betrayed them to Starfleet to save my own hide, and the Starfleet crew hate me for defecting to the Maquis in the first place, and for - for Caldik Prime." He stumbled over the last, averting his gaze. Chakotay waited, and finally Paris looked up again. The despair in those blue eyes was unmistakable. "Sir, I'll always be grateful to you for what you've done for me. But I'm looking at spending the rest of my life with a shipful of enemies."

"Who was it, Tom?"

Tom balked. "I don't want to -"

"Lieutenant…"

"Ensign Bronowski, sir."

Chakotay looked at him a moment longer, then nodded. "Chakotay to Janeway. Could I see you in my ready room, Commander?"

Janeway unfolded herself from the big chair. "The bridge is yours, Lieutenant Tuvok." She headed for the ready room and punched the doorpad.

"Come."

Janeway stepped in. Two heads - one dark, one blond - raised at her entrance. She stiffened at the sight of Tom Paris. "Reporting as requested, Captain," she said neutrally. What the hell was this about?

"Commander, we have a problem." Chakotay stood and ambled around to rest on the edge of his desk. "It seems that certain members of this crew have taken it upon themselves to ... discipline Mr Paris. I'm sure you agree that this is unacceptable."

Janeway looked closely at the pilot. His blond hair was mussed, and the faint redness around his eye was unmistakable. "One of mine, or one of yours?" she demanded.

Chakotay raised an eyebrow. "If you insist on making that distinction, the crewman responsible was a Starfleet security officer. This time. Last time -"

"Last time?"

"- it was two of the former Maquis."

Tom flushed. How the hell did Chakotay know about that? It'd happened in his quarters, and they'd been careful not to mark his face ...

Janeway folded her arms. A pulse began to throb at her temple.

"So," Chakotay continued calmly, "I am placing Mr Paris under your personal protection. Please see to it that every member of this crew is made aware of the penalty for assaulting an officer on this ship."

Janeway's jaw dropped. "What?"

"You heard me, Commander. I am asking you to ensure Tom's personal safety. I will not stand for the abuse of any member of my crew."

Tom shrank under the weight of her glare. But as she stared at him, something changed; he could almost swore he read compassion in those blue-grey eyes. Janeway nodded. "Understood. Lieutenant Paris, I assure you this will never happen again."

Chakotay returned to his seat. "See that it doesn't."

Paris followed her onto the bridge.

 

=/\=


"Tom!" Harry Kim raced to catch up with the helmsman. "Where you headed?"

"Mess hall." Paris' long legs ate up the deck.

"Mind if I join you?"

Paris glanced at him curiously. "Sure you want to be seen with me?"

Harry sent him a dark look. "I told you before. I choose my own friends. Besides -" he hesitated. "I heard what happened. Seems like you could use all the friends you can get."

"Ain't that the truth." Tom snorted. "Mind you, I'm not too sure that one of my newest ... friends is too delighted at the prospect of getting to know me better."

"Whaddya mean?"

"Oh, never mind." The mess hall doors slid open and Tom and Harry stopped abruptly, gaping.

"- make myself clear, Ensign?"

Ensign Bronowski's face was rapidly turning the colour of an overripe tomato from the pressure of the hands around his neck. The tiny figure pinning him against the wall was rigid from the strain, her small hands barely able to circle the hefty crewman's throat, but it was clear, despite the difference in their size, who had the upper hand. It seemed he was trying to speak.

"I can't hear you," she hissed.

"Yes, Commander," gasped the big man, and sagged in relief as Janeway let him go. She turned away, rubbing her fingers. "Clean him up," she spat as Bronowski gingerly felt for his rasping windpipe.

"Watch it!" Tom was shouldered aside by a pair of burly security officers, who stopped short as they entered the mess hall. One of them looked questioningly from the panting Bronowski to Commander Janeway, still taut with tension. "Sir, we had a report of a disturbance ...?"

"It's under control, thank you, crewman," she replied composedly, but her tone was belied by the slight shaking of her hands as she worked a fallen lock of hair into its pins. "Perhaps you could escort Mr Bronowski to sickbay."

Tom Paris watched in disbelief as the near-unconscious ensign stumbled past him, leaning heavily on the two security officers. Janeway followed a moment later, shooting him a look he couldn't read.

"Now what in the hell was that all about?" murmured Harry Kim.

 

=/\=


"I'm putting you on report." Chakotay's mouth was stiff with fury.

Janeway shrugged. "You told me to deal with it. It's dealt with."

"I'd have thought it obvious that your chosen method was inappropriate. For God's sake, Kathryn." He looked at her tiredly. "How is this crew ever supposed to settle in when you insist on behaving like a thug?"

"It's the Maquis way."

He wanted to slap that smirk off her beautiful face. "Are you going to fight me on this forever?"

She laughed at him. "Go ahead and put me on report, Chakotay. In fact, why not put me in for a court-martial? When we get back home in, oh, seventy years or so, when you're done explaining to Starfleet Command why you deputised a bunch of wanted terrorists, maybe you and I can share a prison cell."

"Kathryn ..." The thrilling agony in his voice. She was suddenly ashamed, and turned to hide it. "Why are you acting like you don't care?"

Because I care too much.

"Am I dismissed, Captain?"

He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Dismissed, Commander."

 

=/\=


The bridge was silent, as it usually was when Chakotay was absent. The tense undercurrent subdued them all. There was none of Tom's easy banter with Harry or needling of Tuvok when Janeway was in the big chair.

She was staring at him again. He could feel it in the prickling of his neck. Paris moved his shoulders uncomfortably, trying not to look. He looked.

She wasn't looking at him at all. She was gazing at the viewscreen, and for the first time since he'd known her, her expression was unguarded. Soft. Was that moisture in her eyes?

He'd never seen that softness in her before. Never seen her cry. Not even when she'd had to watch DeSoto suffer on the Liberty, her friend Aline DeSoto, whom they'd rescued from that Cardassian set-up on Salka IV. DeSoto's eyes had been removed - with what, he could only shudder to imagine - her tongue cut out, the soles of her feet burned and twisted. She'd died in pain in Janeway's arms. And Janeway hadn't cried.

Tom watched her now, the bunched muscles of her jaw relaxed, her scowl wiped clean, her lips softened from their usual hard line. Blue topaz eyes. Skin like the palest orchid. Hair the colour of tiger's-eye.

She was beautiful.

He'd never realised it before. Of course, he'd noticed she was attractive. That small, hard body, bones like a bird's, deceptively frail. He'd seen a few men regret that assumption when her tough little fist laid them out on the deck. The big blue-grey eyes, the fine-featured face. The long silky hair - her only vanity. Oh, she was good-looking alright, and if she'd shown him the slightest interest as anything more than a pilot when she'd drafted him ... well, Tom Paris had never been known to turn down an offer from a good-looking woman.

"A holo-image might last longer, Mr Paris."

That cool husky voice, at the edge of his hearing. She'd levelled her gaze at him. He flushed deeply, snapped his gaze back to the conn.

He'd recognised that look in her eyes, before they hardened again. Seen it in his own.

She was lonely.