by Suz

Disclaimer - Paramount own them. Snigger.

Hmm...yes. A sequel of sorts to 'Trade' and 'An Alternate Trade'. This is Ragpants fault for a certain comment...well I had to respond.

It's one of *those* stories. My first one in fact.


"I have a theory..."

The voice grated over my skin, through my mind, flew over all my senses in the most unwelcome manner. Leaning forward I rested my head on my hands, as my elbows rested on the edge of the desk I was working on. I really didn't want to face him right now. "Oh for Gods sake just go away!"

I doubt he was surprised; I certainly must have looked to be in a foul enough mood. But he didn't say anything further, clearly waiting for me to continue. In this situation for once I was happy to. "I am really *not* in the mood."

"Really?" he asked, moving to rest one hip against the edge of the table. Leaning his head towards me, he spoke in an inneundo-laced tone. "That's not what *I* hear."

"What do you mean?"

"Been having sex with aliens again, have we?"

Glaring up at him I pushed myself out of my chair until we were almost nose-to-nose. "Been taking interest in something that's none of your business again, have we?"

For once he almost backed down. His expression came as close as it ever had been to being 'sincere'. "I will admit to having a certain...weakness towards the human race. I'm not entirely sure why - you're such paltry insubstantial things. Constantly bickering over the insignificant and absolutely always failing to see the big picture. I suppose that's why you make for such interesting drama." Shrugging he moved away from the table. "But I'm not here to talk about my hobbies; I'm here to talk about yours."

Turning back to the table in my quarters, I thumped several padds about in an attempt to look busy. "Look, this really has nothing to do with you."

His voice - as it is 90% of the time when he speaks - was full of smug humour. "Don't be so sure."

I wanted to ignore him, really I did, but he caught my interest with that deliberately off-hand remark. My hands stilled, clasping onto the padds. Staring at the wall I asked him what he meant.

He used his hands for dramatic emphasis as he spoke. "Let's see. You've been using sex to get your crew closer to home. Fair enough, everyone - especially leaders - must make some kind of sacrifice at some point-"

Whacking the padds on the table I whirled to face him, seething. "I've had it with all this sacrifice bullshit! The Doctor can't look me in the eye because he thinks I'm selling my body to get us three months closer to home. Well, maybe I *am* using my body to get us home, but whose business is it but my own? And you..." I paused briefly, drawing in breath "you talk about what a sacrifice it is having sex with those aliens, but you know what? It's not a sacrifice because maybe I enjoy what I'm doing!"

"Then why didn't you do it three years ago?" His response was immediate, and my anger drained away a bit in surprise.


"Three years ago I asked you to mate with me. True, it seems a bit foolish now, but at the time I offered to return you to Earth in exchange." Pointing towards the window at the word 'Earth', he then turned back to face me. "You turned me down because you don't 'love' me, but you certainly don't 'love' any of your latest suitors. Why now? Why not then?"

"That was different. That was you."

He paused for a moment, considering. "I think the correct phrase is 'double standard'..."

My anger flared again. "Don't! Don't you of all people start a debate about morality!"

"This has nothing to do with morality, this is to do with you. You're not a nice person anymore, Kathryn Janeway. You don't play pool with your crew, you don't discuss dreams with Lieutenant Torres, you don't have peppy little talks with Ensign Kim, and your obsession with getting back to Earth which you think is saving your crew is actually killing morale on this little ship of horrors."

"So I'm not that close to my crew; a Captain is supposed to maintain a certain distance."

Apparently frustrated, he stalked around the room. "My point is that you've changed. You used to be someone who the crew thought they could come to talk to, someone they could confide in. Now they spend most of their time avoiding you. This doesn't make for a happy crew." Before I could argue he continued. "Do you know how frustrating this is? With one click - one *click* - of my fingers, you could be a different person and arguably a better one. You would never again be directly responsible for causing someone pain, for destroying morale. But that would be missing the whole point, wouldn't it? You could be a better person but you wouldn't learn anything from it."

I laughed harshly. "And you think you can teach me to be a better person?"

"No. Only friendship can teach you and that, my dear Janeway, is something you are seriously lacking. I suggest you have a word with that Vulcan friend of yours. Or the one with the tattoo. I doubt anyone else cares enough. I know I'm done wasting my time on you." Moving his arm, he lifted it up to perform his trademark finger click.

And absurdly that's the moment when I noticed something. "This whole never once called me Kathy."

He stared at me, fingers still in the air, seeming unsurprised by the vast change of topic. "Many things have changed, Janeway. Many things."

And then he was gone.


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