by Suz suzvoy@yahoo.com

Disclaimer - characters are Paramounts. Ain't that grand??

This is my response to the JetC15 'Fire Ship' challenge (for those of you who don't know, that's the Janeway Captain's Table book). The challenge is to write about Janeway's return and how she's changed by her experiences on the alien ship (nudge nudge). Hee hee. This is also my response to another challenge...


Ever since she had returned, Kathryn had been...different. Yes, different. That was the best way to describe it. And it scared the hell out of Chakotay. He had always been the one who had been eager for a relationship, and she was the one who wanted to hold off because of protocol. Now, somewhat ironically, their roles appeared to have swapped.

After a couple of weeks rest that the Doctor insist she take, Kathryn was back in command of Voyager. Chakotay was only too happy to give her back the 'big chair'. He had occupied it while she was gone, but it had never really belonged to him. In his eyes, and even in the eyes of the crew it would always be hers.

It had been hell while she was gone. Everyone assumed the worst, and of course there was no evidence to the contrary. Dead. Kathryn Janeway. Dead. God, it had been so hard for the crew to accept. He'd never been able to. Chakotay wasn't often a person given to denial, but in this case he just couldn't believe that she was gone. She was too much a part of his life, too much a part of him. He wouldn't share breakfast with her in the mess hall, she wouldn't smile at him when they were whispering on the bridge. She wouldn't moan about Neelix's latest coffee substitute or say his name in a way that would haunt his memory. He wouldn't accept that these things would no longer happen. He couldn't.

And she was back. Suddenly she was back and his universe made sense again because she was his universe. She'd laughed and cried as they'd been reunited, and all he'd been able to do was softly repeat her name over and over. He'd wanted to hold her, but even in his delighted state somehow he'd managed to remember decorum.

Kathryn was back, she was in command, and he was her First Officer. Loyal, opinionated, and in love. But she was different.

It had to have something to do with the environment she'd been living in these last months. A cramped ship compared to Voyager, with an all-male crew. Chakotay had to admit to being rather uncomfortable when he discovered that little piece of information.

Kathryn smiled fondly every time she or someone else mentioned them. He supposed he couldn't blame her. She'd lived with them for a long time, even became their Captain. You couldn't do that without coming to love them in some degree.

They seemed to have had quite an influence on her, because ever since she returned she had been a little more...physical. She was always a person for touching; a hand on a shoulder, a tap on an arm. It wasn't that unusual. But lately...it seemed she always had her hands on him. It was quite disconcerting. Not that he minded (he wasn't going to lie by saying he didn't enjoy it in some way), but it was certainly odd behaviour for Kathryn Janeway.

Which was why he was sitting in the darkness of his quarters, wondering if he should allow her entry. It had only been about ten seconds since she'd beeped his door. He hadn't asked the computer who wanted entry but he knew it was her. Well, they had to discuss this anyway...

"Enter." he called out, standing from his seat and unconsciously pulling his robe tighter.

He was still shocked by her hair every time he saw it. It was shorter, much shorter than the style she used to wear but it looked good on her. It was brushed back from her face and the hair on the right side of her head had been pushed back behind her ear. He found that made her look oddly vulnerable.

The expression on her face was anything but vulnerable. She was smiling at him widely, almost seductively. Her blue eyes letting him know just how happy she was to see him.

"Hello Chakotay."

Was her voice a touch huskier than normal, or was he getting overly paranoid and imagining things?

She was wearing a long cream dress that she had either recently replicated or had been hiding in her closet since their journey began. It was long sleeved, and while it didn't expose too much flesh it still looked stunning. And she knew it.

Trying not to clear his throat, he asked her if she wanted anything to drink. She declined, and sat down on the sofa pulling him with her. He sat, back rigid, actually praying for the first time that Tuvok would interrupt them.

Kathryn Janeway was no fool; she knew something was wrong.

"What's the matter Chakotay? You seem a little tense. That's not like you."

Closing his eyes, he willed his body to relax. Slowly, his shoulders lowered and he grabbed onto the peace he found inside. When he opened his eyes she was smiling at him in a way that had him tensing up again in less then a second.

"Kathryn, I think we need to discuss-"

"-my behaviour?" she asked with a small grin, raising both eyebrows in a mock-Tuvok impersonation. "That would seem logical Commander."

He chuckled, the tension once again leaving him. "You have to admit you've been rather..."


"...lately." he finished.

Resting her neck on the back of the sofa, she laced her fingers over her stomach and placed her feet on the edge of his coffee table. "I know my behaviour must seem a little...unusual."

He nodded his agreement. "It's not exactly what I've come to expect from you."

She tutted. "Oh Chakotay, didn't your father teach you anything? A woman is never predictable."

"Well you certainly haven't been..." he teased, then paused. "It was your other crew, wasn't it? Your life with them. It changed you."

Kathryn flexed her fingers. "It couldn't not change me Chakotay. Their way of living...it's so different from ours. I know there are the obvious similarities. Travelling through space, trying to survive, having a hierarchy...but there are vast differences. Especially for me."

"The only female." he pointed out.

"True. And they had me scrubbing the tiles with a toothbrush!"

Chakotay laughed softly. "That's quite a step down from Captain."

She glanced over at him. "Hey, I muck in when I need to. Of course, I was offended at first. They were giving me the most menial job possible! But I have to admit that after a while I almost enjoyed it. There was a certain satisfaction of a job well done. Of actually doing something and seeing the results instantly. A lot of my time on Voyager is spent with 'paper work' and it's not often you see immediate results."

"Ah, the perils of command..."

"But what really changed me was being around all those men."

Chakotay tried to keep the jealousy out of his voice. "Why, were they good looking?"

She wrinkled her nose as she thought about that. "Well, there were those who were cuter than others. I suppose there were a few who were. But it's the same everywhere. There'll be some who are cute and some who aren't."

He nodded again, feigning interest, but he kept thinking about who she found 'cute' on Voyager...

"I tried to blend in. Make myself as non-sexual as possible. I had no choice but to wear their clothes, but I didn't do anything to make myself look attractive."

He managed to stop the response that threatened to come flying out of his mouth, and listened as she continued.

"But there were certain times when I became aware of just how female I was. Especially when I was having my period."

That brought his eyebrows up. She'd never even mentioned them to him before.

"Well, I needed supplies for that once a month, obviously. I didn't have anything with me. So I had to ask them for something I could use. It was sweet really," she added with a slight chuckle "they were hideously embarrassed when I explained what I needed and why I needed them. It seems their females do have something similar. Of course, being an all-male crew they didn't have anything specifically for that purpose, but I made do."

What could he say to that? Thankfully he didn't have to say anything.

"It was during those times that I really came to realise the differences between me and them. Here I was, the only female on an otherwise all-male crew...and I wasn't attracted to a single one of them."

She drew in a deep breath, moved her feet back to the floor, unclasped her hands and leant towards him. "In fact, all I could think was that the only person I was attracted to...was you."

Chakotay's mind was whirling as she studied him expectantly. But again, she was talking.

"I can be very persistent Chakotay. When Kathryn Janeway wants something, she doesn't stop until she gets it."

He still said nothing, amazed. Her could see her doubts begin to surface.

"I know I don't deserve you. You've given me so much and I've hardly given anything in return but I-"

Finally coming to his senses, Chakotay moved even closer and silenced her by touching her gently on the cheek with his right hand. He began to speak, but hesitated.

"What is it?" she whispered, eyes wide and curious.

He grinned slightly. "You are the stubbornest, most irritating woman it has ever been my misfortune to meet. I think that's why I love you."

Smiling at him fondly, her left hand moved up to rest on his right. "Oh really? Well I wouldn't have sex with you if you were the last damn man on Earth."

"Hmm." he mumbled as he turned his hand around so their fingers meshed together. "Then I guess I'm lucky we're no where near Earth."

"I guess you are..." she agreed as her lips moved forward to meet his.