Third Degree
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Summary: On day one of the journey through the Delta quadrant, Captain Janeway tries to figure out whether Captain Chakotay will be adversary or ally … and which of these would be more dangerous.

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Tuvok, EMH

Codes: Janeway & Chakotay, proto-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.

Note: Written for the Sol System Challenges June Solstice fest to the prompt “Heat”.

 

Rated K+

The first thing she had observed about the Maquis captain when he’d materialised on her bridge three days ago hadn’t been his height or the breadth of his shoulders, or his dark brown eyes or the attractive sprinkling of grey in his hair, although she had noticed each of those attributes subconsciously.

No, the thing that had filled her attention as she stood toe-to-toe with him, chin tilted and eyes flinty, had been the way he smelled. A cedar-y, sawdust-y, earthy kind of smell. Later, on the Caretaker’s array and then on Ocampa, she’d found herself breathing in his presence, holding air in her lungs, leaning in close to catch the scent of him. She hadn't realised until later that he had been breathing her in, too.

Now, as Chakotay stepped into her ready room, Janeway greeted him from behind her desk – a position of safety, though she wouldn’t give that thought even a fraction of credence. “Coffee?” she asked him, moving immediately to the replicator in expectation, and found herself unexpectedly set back when he declined in favour of tea.

Maybe it was a sign that she should reconsider the offer she was about to put to him, she mused. A man who didn’t drink coffee was surely a man who couldn’t be trusted.

Then she remembered that she didn’t believe in signs.

She waved him to the couch on the upper level, picking up the padd she’d been studying as she strode after him. In his scorched and battered leathers, he looked somewhat incongruous against the muted greys and greens of her Starfleet furniture.

She wondered if the man himself was going to disrupt her ordered life in the same manner.

“Thank you for coming, Lieutenant Commander. How are your crew faring?”

“We’re fine,” he replied, his tone easy. “But if you don’t mind, I’d rather you didn’t refer to me by my previous Starfleet rank. I am more appropriately addressed as Captain, or just Chakotay.”

Janeway’s step faltered momentarily. “Very well, Captain,” she replied, lowering herself to the couch at some distance from him.

“Thank you.”

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve asked you here,” she went on briskly, setting her cup in its saucer with a chink. “I’d like to begin by assuring you that I have no intention of putting your people off the ship, unless that is your preference.”

“It’s preferable to a lifetime confined to your brig,” he pointed out calmly.

Janeway paused in the act of raising her cup to her lips. “That is also not my intention, Captain, but I suppose it all depends on the outcomes of this conversation.”

“Then by all means, Captain,” a dimple appeared, rather disconcertingly, in his cheek, “let’s converse.”

She blinked to realign her train of thought. “All right,” she said. “Why don’t you start by telling me something about yourself?”

“You mean, something you haven’t already learned from my intelligence file?” Chakotay asked mildly, his gaze drifting to the padd she’d placed on the coffee table.

Janeway shrugged one shoulder. “Since you probably don’t know exactly what’s in your file, perhaps you should just give me your version of events. What made you leave Starfleet to join the Maquis?”

“I suppose you could say I was a conscientious objector,” he replied, eyeing her carefully. “But there was a personal element to my decision to resign.”

“Because your home planet was handed over to Cardassian rule.”

“And because I knew the Cardassians would pay lip service to the treaty and immediately expel my people from their world,” he retorted. “Which they did. Violently.”

Janeway sipped at her coffee to give herself time to respond – and to give him time to rein himself in.

“I’m sorry about what happened to your people,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said tonelessly, in stark contrast to the flash of temper he’d shown moments earlier.

“Do you still hold the same convictions regarding the peace treaty?”

“You mean, do I object to Starfleet turning a blind eye to genocide?” He smiled without humour. “You bet I do. But that doesn’t mean I have a problem with you, Captain, if that’s what you’re really asking.”

She didn’t deny it.

“Unless, of course,” he added, “you’re the kind of officer who’ll turn a blind eye herself. But, given your decision to destroy the array to save the Ocampa, I’m betting you’re not.”

“If you think that demonstrates a willingness on my part to ignore regulations whenever my personal preferences demand it,” Janeway said flatly, “you can disabuse yourself of that notion right now, Captain. I weighed that decision carefully in light of Starfleet directives and in consultation with Lieutenant Tuvok, whose counsel I trust.”

Another flash of anger briefly contorted the Maquis captain’s features, and Janeway pounced on it immediately.

“And if you have a problem with Mr Tuvok, I need to know about it.”

“Why?”

“I’ll get to that.”

“I don’t have a problem with Tuvok,” he answered, dipping his head. “I may feel a little personally betrayed by him, but he was following orders. I respect that.”

Janeway felt herself relax a fraction.

“Tom Paris, on the other hand…”

Janeway tensed again. “Tom Paris was also following orders. Mine, as it happens.”

He snorted. “The get out of jail free card had nothing to do with it, I’m sure.”

“Regardless,” she injected steel into her voice, “he is a member of my crew, and you will treat him with –”

“– the same respect I’d expect from you to mine,” Chakotay finished. “Understood, Captain.”

“Good.” Janeway straightened again. “Tell me about Veloz Prime.”

At her words, the Maquis captain went utterly still. His face went blank, his eyes black and remote.

For the first time since she’d met the man, Janeway’s spine chilled. As mild-mannered and respectful as he’d seemed thus far, as crisply military his bearing and heroic his deeds, she’d just had her first sharp reminder that this man was no rank-and-file officer. He was a defector, an insurgent and a freedom fighter. And he was dangerous.

“If you know enough to ask me that,” Chakotay said in a voice as flat as a striking snake, “you know not to ask for details.”

“I’m afraid that’s not good enough, Captain. I have Tuvok’s mission report here,” she tapped a finger on the padd lying on the coffee table, “but I want to hear your side of it.”

“Why?”

“Because your answer will determine how we proceed from here.”

Chakotay leaned back against the couch cushions, studying her. “All right,” he said, having apparently come to a decision. “Veloz Prime, as you’d know, was one of the former Cardassian colonies ceded to the Federation in the treaty. I’d received information that the so-called civilian colony there was in fact a heavily armed base that the Cardassian military was using as a waystation and weapons stockpile. If hostilities were to break out openly in the Demilitarised Zone – as everybody knew they eventually would – Veloz would become strategically vital to Cardassian movements.”

“Go on.”

“After verifying the intel I assembled a landing party of seven, including Tuvok, and launched a raid on the Veloz settlement. We lost two people. The Cardassians lost more than seventy, plus their entire hoard of kemocite ore.”

He stopped talking, and Janeway raised an expectant eyebrow.

For the first time his gaze slid away from hers. “I interrogated the gul in charge of the base,” he said, reluctant. “I believed he had information on other armament stockpiles in the DMZ. I deliberately exposed him to beta radiation from the kemocite … I tortured him. He died.”

Janeway swallowed. He was still staring at his hands, his shoulders tensed as though braced for a blow.

“I’m not proud of what I did on Veloz Prime, Captain.” He finally looked at her. “I’m not proud of most of the actions I took as a Maquis. We lived hard and we lived violently, and I had no expectations of surviving longer than a year or so. All I wanted was to protect the colonists in the DMZ from Cardassian atrocities, and I suppose I was willing to commit a few of my own in order to do that.”

She thought about that, holding his gaze.

“According to Tuvok’s report, you also saved two Cardassian scientists by warning them to vacate the weapons laboratory before it was destroyed. You saved Tuvok’s life, too.” Her eyes narrowed. “Yet you didn’t mention that. Why?”

“You’re assessing my capacity for violence,” Chakotay answered. “You want to know if I’m a killer. Well, Captain, given the right motivation, yes I am.”

“I also want to know if you can show mercy,” she responded. “I wanted to know if you could look past your anger. Can you, Captain? Can you remember the principles you once joined Starfleet to uphold?”

“You want to know if I can be trusted.”

“I do.”

“Why?”

“Because I intend to get my crew home, however long it takes, and frankly, Captain, Voyager doesn’t have the personnel. We lost too many people in the transit to the Delta quadrant and we were already running on a skeleton staff. You no longer have a ship. So I propose we integrate your crew with mine. One crew, on Voyager.”

“I see,” he answered. “How far will that integration extend?”

“Your people will wear Starfleet uniform and follow Starfleet protocols under my command.”

Chakotay nodded. “Sounds reasonable. It’ll take some time for my crew to get accustomed to the Starfleet way of doing things, but if you give them the necessary support and space, they’ll fall into line.”

“I hope so,” Janeway said smartly. “Because as my first officer, it’ll be your task to ensure that.”

Surprise flickered in those expressive dark eyes. “I have to admit, that’s not what I thought you’d say.”

She folded her hands on her knee. “What did you think I’d say?”

He ducked his head. “To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m honoured that you’d extend that level of trust to me, Captain. Unless of course,” he raised his eyes to her, “I’m to be your first officer in name only.”

Janeway felt her spine straighten. “I don’t operate on false pretences, Captain. If I ask you to serve under me, it means I’m placing my trust in you.”

“And if I give you my loyalty, you can count on it always.”

She read the truth of it in his eyes and nodded, satisfied.

“Have you finished giving me the third degree?” he asked her, that dimple appearing once again.

Janeway inclined her head. “For now.”

He rose from the couch and extended his hand for her to shake. “Then I accept your offer, Captain.”

She stood, sliding her hand into his, and found herself drawing an extra breath at the now-familiar scent of him and the warmth of the contact. Judging by the heat that flashed briefly in his eyes, she guessed his reaction was similar.

An alarm sounded in the back of her mind, faint but insistent.

She wasn’t foolish enough to ignore it; she’d felt drawn to this man from the moment he appeared on her bridge, and she knew that it could muddy their brand-new working relationship. But only if she allowed it, and she had no intention of doing so.

“We have a long road ahead,” she murmured, half to herself.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” the Maquis captain responded.

“A warrior and a poet.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “It seems your intelligence file doesn’t do you justice, Captain Chakotay.”

“Commander,” he corrected her, that dimple appearing again. “If I’m going to be your first officer, I’ll have to live with the demotion.”

As his smile widened and she found her own lips twitching in response, Kathryn Janeway began to suspect that her offer to join this man’s crew with her own had been, in one way, a ruinous complication.

 

~*~


The warning came too late.

~Bridge to Captain Janeway,~ came Tuvok’s measured tones. ~A power build-up has been detected in the plasma conduit system. Engineering is working to contain it but the overload is increasing. I recommend shutting down all relays on decks one through four –~

The increasing whine of overtaxed relays drowned him out, and before Janeway could respond to Tuvok’s advice, the EPS panel behind her replicator burst into a shower of sparks. Fire roared out of the blistered panel, shooting halfway across the upper level of the ready room and directly toward Janeway’s back.

Chakotay, who still held her hand in his, reacted instantly by yanking her into the circle of his arms, close against his body, and executing a hunched half-turn. The bolt of flame died with a sizzle as the automated fire suppression system switched on, dousing them both in foam.

Janeway extricated herself from Chakotay’s arms. “Well, Commander,” she said, trying to hide how breathless she was, “it seems you’re already fulfilling the duties of my first officer quite nicely.”

“All part of the service,” he gritted out through clenched teeth.

The forced jocularity of his tone alerted her, and she touched his elbow, turning him side-on to inspect him. The back of his vest was charred through in places, patches of red-and-black skin showing through.

“You’re hurt,” she exclaimed, and tapped her combadge. “Janeway to sickbay. Activate the emergency medical holographic program.”

~Sickbay here, Captain,~ came the harried tones of the EMH. ~I’m already active. What do you need?~

“Chakotay has been hurt. I’m sending him to you for burn treatment. Computer, lock onto Chakotay’s signal and beam him directly to sickbay.”

“I could have walked,” was the last thing she heard as her brand-new first officer dematerialised.

 

~*~


“He suffered third degree burns, but Captain Chakotay will make a full recovery,” the EMH informed her abruptly as Janeway strode into sickbay half an hour later, after she’d assured herself that the faulty power relays had been bypassed and there would be no further dramatic explosions. “I was about to release him to Lieutenant Tuvok’s custody.”

Janeway scanned the room and noted Tuvok standing at ease a short distance from the bio-bed Chakotay was sitting on.

“Captain,” the Vulcan inclined his head as he made his way toward her. “Shall I return Mr Chakotay to the cargo bay or would you prefer I escort him to the brig?”

“Neither will be necessary, thank you, Lieutenant.”

“Captain?”

Janeway beckoned him to the far corner of sickbay, lowering her voice. “The Maquis will be integrating into Voyager’s crew, and Cap- Commander Chakotay has agreed to become my first officer.”

Tuvok’s eyebrows rose sharply.

“I’m sorry I didn’t speak with you first, Tuvok, but don’t worry. You’ll be third in command.”

“My status in the command hierarchy is not my concern,” Tuvok replied. “Captain, I must ask what guarantee you’ve obtained from Mr Chakotay that he won’t take advantage of your trust and effect a mutiny.”

“I considered the possibility. But I don’t believe Chakotay would turn mutineer.”

“He has a history of rebellion against authority,” Tuvok pointed out.

“Yes, but I believe he sees the advantage to all of us in forming a single crew under my leadership, and the certain failure of achieving our individual goals of returning home otherwise. And besides,” she hesitated, “my instincts tell me I can trust him.”

“Far be it from me to question your instincts,” replied Tuvok.

Janeway narrowed her eyes at him.

“I need you on the bridge,” she informed him after a significant pause during which he stood immobile and bore her scrutiny. “Keep this to yourself until Commander Chakotay has had the chance to inform his crew.”

Tuvok about-faced, and Janeway made her way over to the bio-bed where Chakotay waited patiently, wearing just the hint of a smirk.

“I suppose you heard all that,” she remarked.

He ducked his head to hide the broadening smile. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was one mightily pissed-off Vulcan.”

She had to press her lips together and mentally recite shield frequency rotation vectors to stifle the uncaptainly snicker that wanted to escape.

“How are you feeling?” she asked him when she was sure she had control of herself.

“Good as new.”

Chakotay slipped off the bio-bed, the movement bringing him close, almost flush against her body. Janeway had to tilt her head quite some way back to meet his eyes. That, almost as much as their close proximity, made her want to step back, put some space between them. Almost.

And it made her curl her fingers into fists in an effort to shift her focus away from just how much she also wanted to stay right there.

As she stood there, struggling with her own conflicting desires and her overarching belief that as captain of this lost starship, facing the man who had been her enemy and was now her ally, she should be entirely above such base longings, she realised on some elemental level that she was leaning in to catch that scent again. The scent that was uniquely his: cedar and sawdust and smoke.

She thought of Phoebe’s woodshop and pine logs burning in her mother’s hearth in winter, and forced the memories into the depths of her mind lest she be crippled by the threatening wave of despair. There were more important things at stake, after all, than indulging the homesickness she suspected would define her for the next seventy-five years.

But something of it must have shown on her face, or perhaps in her ongoing silence.

“Captain?” asked Chakotay gently. “Are you all right?”

She shook herself mentally and hoped the upward curve of her lips would be enough to deflect this unnervingly perceptive man.

“Of course, Commander. Why don’t you join me in my ready room after I’ve shown you to your new quarters?” she invited with only slightly forced brightness. “I suppose it’s your turn to give me the third degree, since I know a lot more about you than you do about me.”

The smile that crossed Chakotay’s face was all kinds of dangerous, as was the just-this-side-of-scorching warmth in his eyes.

“The intelligence file the Maquis compiled on you doesn’t do you justice either,” he told her with deceptive mildness, following her out of sickbay and into the corridor. “But what I don’t already know about you, Captain, I look forward to finding out.”

As she fumbled to cover her surprise and the resultant break in her stride, Kathryn Janeway reflected that her assessment of Chakotay as a complication might have been an understatement as vast as the space they had yet to cross.