Beth6787

9 May y

The Ploy

Set late season 7, just after the events of "Natural Law". Kathryn Janeway lends Chakotay a box of books, inadvertently containing an old, handwritten diary from the first months of their journey...

Chakotay dropped the box beside his sofa with a sigh of relief and promptly rubbed his right shoulder whilst trying to get the circulation back to his right hand. As the pins and needles sent sharp pains up his wrist he very much hoped this would be worth the effort. Much as he encouraged Kathryn to embrace tradition, at this moment in time he would have given anything for these fifty or so tomes to have been stored in a lightweight PADD. When he had made a joke to that effect she had told him that it wasn't the same. Part of the experience of immersing yourself in the saga was the literal unfolding of the story with the turning of the paper page; the odour of the old leather binding; overcoming the temptation for that illicit preview of the final page...

Maybe...he was yet to be convinced, but he was just glad to finally be getting their 'friendship' back on track after the events of Quarra. Over the years there were many rituals and gestures that had come to symbolise the unspoken undercurrents of their relationship. In good times and bad. When they were on an even keel, so to speak, each would produce coffee or tea for the other unbidden, just when it was needed most. Or a pat on the back, a hand on his chest or in the small of her back; a whispered joke over the central console between their command seats; an impromptu dinner invitation or the fait accompli the loan of an old paper book.

This latter was of the most significance and the titles exchanged often spoke, through the words of author, those sentiments that protocol forbade them to give their own voices to. Kathryn had quite a collection : including several first editions that were centuries old. Sometimes she expresses guilt about having brought them aboard ship. It was an indulgence that she would not normally have allowed herself. But then again, Voyager's maiden journey was only intended to have lasted three weeks and she was due an extended leave on their return for her wedding and honeymoon. So she had taken a few of her greatest treasures with her to shorten the perceived passage of time until she was reunited with Mark. Chakotay had not missed the look in her eyes as she had surveyed the small collection on her shelves, noting how very well worn the pages were in each and every one. How they used to sit side by side in neat rows and now, due to the frayed edges on the pages and buckling dust jackets and bindings they slumped at various angles, apparently defying gravity to remain on the narrow shelving unit at all.

Tonight, as they were finishing dessert and Kathryn was getting the coffees from the replicator, his gaze had swept around the familiar living area only to notice the shelves were almost bare. He had said nothing, worried that she had recycled them in a fit of depression in the days after saying her goodbyes to Jaffen. So later, just as they were saying their good nights : when Kathryn stepped through into her bedroom and came staggering out with a large box full of said books, his first emotion was one of relief. Quickly followed by surprise when it was unceremoniously plonked in his arms.

Kathryn informed him that she was making good on a promise several months ago to lend him all her books that he had not yet read. She had given him that crooked smile of hers in response to what must have been his blank expression. Had he forgotten their bet after that snooker tournament? The loser had to read the winner's complete library before they made it home... Served him right for losing, he mentally kicked himself on recollection, after all Kathryn's library was bound to be several orders of magnitude larger than his. How she had kept a tab on who had read what over the years was beyond him to fathom! He had laughed and made a joke about not expecting the box back before the tenth anniversary of their homecoming at least, before staggering back to his quarters with the precious cargo.

He would turn in for the night in a moment, but first he would have a last chamomile tea and re-shelve the books to prevent any further wear and tear. Once he was sat on his sofa with the box beside him he picked up the first book only to see that Kathryn's record keeping was not as perfect as he had thought. William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing". He laughed as he remembered the look on Kathryn's face as she had handed it to him at the end of THAT dinner when they had resolved the trust issues dredged up by Seven's conspiracy theories! He put it on the coffee table and started to stack the others. There were thirty one books altogether and the other thirty were indeed new to him. Perhaps the top one had been an oversight on her part? He went to put it by the door so he could return it to her in the morning, when a small cardboard covered notebook fell out of the back of the dust jacket.

It was slim, perhaps twenty pages at most, and had probably been used as a bookmark by her. Sipping his tea, he idly opened to the first page and discovered it was handwritten in Kathryn's script. He knew from long experience that she very seldom put pen to paper and could only remember a handful of times, at most, that she had done so in the entire seven years of their journey. Always - when her thoughts were so sacrosanct that she dare not commit them to the computer banks. Even with the highest levels of encryption.

He knew she had done so when they had first encountered the Omega particle and also during her encounters with Captain Ransom of the Equinox. The last time he was aware of, he had caught her in the Mess Hall at 3am the morning after their final encounter with Inspector Kashyk of the Devore Imperium. She had hastily shut her notebook and bade him goodnight but had stopped by the exit, hovering for moments as she fought mentally with herself, then she had abruptly strode over to the replicator and recycled the notebook right in front of him before marching back out without glancing at him once. He could guess at the contents. Her inner emotional turmoil finding an outlet in the only way she felt safe to express herself.

Was it an accident that this notebook was left with him now? It was in the book on the top of the pile. The only one he had read before...Much Ado About Nothing...a clue? He laughed inwardly at himself. Probably a clue that he was making a mountain out of a molehill if he took the reference literally! Then again, in the past, she had resorted to writing down her feelings when she was in great pain. Eventually she had opened up to him although she had never shared the contents of one of her written diaries before. Then again, there had never been a situation quite like Jaffen either. A real person rather than a holographic facsimile and she had developed enough of a rapport with him for them to take the step of moving in together. After seven long years, he and she were still only next door neighbours...

His situation with the Captain was impossible. It precluded anything like she had the freedom to form with Jaffen, but that did not mean that she had necessarily made her peace with it. If she was struggling, and possibly spiralling down into another depression, this could well be her subtle cry for help...

His mind was made up. He would skim through the first couple of pages. If it truly was nothing, he would simply slot the notebook back between the last pages of the book and hand it casually back to her in the morning. Ensuring she was oblivious to the fact that he knew it existed. He re-warmed the tea and started to read...

—/—

Four hours later...

Chakotay was wide awake although it was now nearly 0400 hours. No time to sleep before his next shift even if he had felt so inclined. He did not. He must have read the entire seventeen and a half pages at least ten times. Word for word. And still his mind was refusing to believe it. Was he really such a fool? All these years...all those shared moments...surreptitious smiles; knowing looks; poignant silences; hands over hearts; sitting beside each other's biobed after countless calamities...he could go on and on. All a charade! A ploy to keep the Maquis Captain "in line" ?!

He had it in her own words, handwritten no less, so there could be no mistaking the author. And it had been placed on the top of the crate within a title that now appeared designed to taunt him.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Had their entire friendship, their relationship... been exactly that to her? Nothing? He kept coming back to the final paragraph...

"So I now feel confident that it has worked. Two days after being stranded here he is finally calling me 'Kathryn'. Of course, he has been calling me that silently, with his eyes, for some months now. I was loathe to do it at first, and doubted it would work with his obvious attachment to his Maquis crew-mate Seska. But after her betrayal...well suffice to say he needed a safe harbour in a storm. A female harbour and ...emotionally I provided that. Oh I never overstepped the bounds and he had always accepted my 'parameters' but that attachment to his mental creation of me has kept my crew safe from the very real threat of a Maquis mutiny. No conflicting interests between the command team therefore no dissent in the ranks. Fortunately for me Chakotay never reached the rank of Captain during his tenure in Starfleet. Had he done so he would be aware of the extreme circumstances scenario. The Ploy...a Captain must do WHATEVER is necessary to ensure the safety of her people and crew cohesion is a must at all times. ...Still, I will always wonder what might have transpired between us had I left it to fate...perhaps we were always destined to...

And there the script ended abruptly. He could picture the timeframe. The last entry was the night before he had suprised her with the bathtub. And all along...what a fool he was! He needed a drink and synthahol just would not cut it tonight. Gritting his teeth he headed out to Cargo Bay 2 where he kept his stash of Antarian Brandy.

—/—-

He had found the brandy without disturbing Icheb in his alcove and was just about to make his escape when Seven suddenly stepped through the doorway. They both froze and regarded each other. Him with a sense of embarrassment at being caught with a bottle of brandy at this time in the morning and Seven with a look of...initially cool contemplation that morphed into...pity?contempt? He could not tell anymore and frankly, at that moment he was past caring.

"Good morning Seven. Sorry to have imposed. I'll be on my way..."

"Commander." She strode past him and started keying some command into her alcove. He was almost out of the door when her voice stopped him in his tracks.

"Commander...Chakotay..." Seven spoke barely above a whisper and sounded hesitant. He instantly calmed. This was not her fault, no need to alarm her. He turned and tried to project a calm and approachable authority. Summoning up as much of a smile as he could muster under the circumstances "Can I help you Seven?"

"I was wondering...it is Ensign Kim's 30th birthday on Friday...there is to be a celebration in the Mess Hall at 2100 hours..." she faltered, trying to sum up the courage to make her request. Forcing herself to look him in the eye she mentally braced herself "...perhaps, if you do not already have a companion in mind...would you like to accompany me?"

Well this was a bolt from the blue - and he hadn't had a drop of the brandy so far! Was Seven asking him on a date? At this moment in time he felt as though the last thing he would ever want again was female company of the 'romantic' kind. Would he ever trust a woman's motives again?! Though Seven was unique in that regard. She was used to the hive mind. Where it was impossible to conceal any thoughts at all. Subterfuge was alien to her. Of all the women on board, she was the least likely to have a hidden agenda. She was almost incapable of it...as yet at least. And from the tone of her voice, her hesitation, it was obvious to him that the offer was genuine and that she expected to be turned down.

Suddenly, an evening with an 'innocent' with no hidden agenda appealed enormously. "Thank you Seven. I would be honoured. Shall I meet you here at 2045 and escort you."

She beamed at him and his heart felt lighter already. "That would be acceptable Comm...Chakotay."

He held up the bottle to her "A birthday present for Mr. Kim. It's a surprise, hence my sneaking in here so early in the morning. I'll just go wrap it now. I'll see you tomorrow evening."

As he vanished from sight he missed Seven's first full blush.

THE END.

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