Chapter 3: The Caged Bird

Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek or its characters. Some dialogue is directly from the episode and is not of my own creation. I do not make any money from this story just writing from pure enjoyment of seeing J/C together.

A/N: This is a chapter surrounding the season 2 premiere episode The 37's. Again my apologies for the long stretches of time between chapters. I have gotten the Fanfiction author curse when life seems to want to get in the way of writing. In addition, really bad writers block. Enjoy. Feel free to review. The 1 favorite and 6 follows is much appreciated.

Chakotay began to take his morning stroll through the ship. He found himself doing it more since his out of body experience almost 3 months ago. Strolling through the ship, Chakotay thought back to that experience of floating through the corridors of the ship. He felt so uneasy being out of his body. What brought him the most ease was being on the bridge and having some control of the situation. What Chakotay didn't expect was the almost unexplainable pull towards the captain. These past 8 months he had tried to be the best second in command he could be. Making sure the captain wasn't spreading herself too thin. Observing her since they have been stranded, he realized the blame and shame she placed upon herself. Chakotay made it a part of his duty as First Officer to lighten her mood when the opportunity presented itself.

"Chakotay", B'elanna greeted Chakotay in the corridor.

"B'elanna", He greeted in return nodding his head in greeting, "How has your morning been?"

"Not too bad, for once. I'm headed to the mess hall for breakfast. Care to join me? Some of the senior staff are discussing having a gift exchange soon for Christmas or Yule." B'elanna invited.

"I can only guess who came up with that idea…" He humorously said, raising an eyebrow, "Neelix", they both said at the same time laughing as they turned the corner of the corridor to the mess hall.

"Okay Harry, what's on your Christmas wishlist?" Tom encouraged while picking at his plate.

"Well I'm not sure, my family didn't really exchange gifts back home. We would cook with one another and just enjoy the company of family we didn't really get to see very often." Harry explained reliving the holiday season through his mind's eye.

"I'd love more holodeck rations." Tom raised both eyebrows directing the conversation to the commander who was sitting across the table, "There is a garage simulation I have been working on. A 1969 Chevy Camaro, one of the earliest muscle cars ever made. I wish I had more time to tinker with it".

"Boys and their toys", B'elanna said, rolling her eyes, "What about you commander? Anything you have been wanting?"

'I want Janeway to be happy', He thought to himself.

Since Voyager has been stranded in the Delta Quadrant, he began to notice how she placed their predicament square on her shoulders and isolated herself. Working herself hard to find new avenues to get Voyager home. He wished he could do something to show her that she was not alone at the top of command. There were people who cared about her and don't blame her as much anymore.

"Nothing but a morale boost to the crew, which I think Mr. Neelix will come through with. I will see you all on the bridge", Chakotay said, rising from his chair and placing his tray on the return pile.

As Chakotay exited the mess hall, he asked himself what did he want? What did he want out of the many things in his new life on Voyager? He took himself out of his deep contemplation and glanced at the chronometer and saw that he had time before he was due on the bridge for alpha shift. He entered the turbolift and walked to his quarters to take a spirit walk and speak to his animal guide.

Chakotay entered his quarters and took a cleansing breath. He walked to the home of his medicine bundle, took it off the shelf, and held the deeply personal object to his heart. Hoping to find the answers to the bombardment of thoughts. He sat beneath the view port of his quarters and opened the medicine bundle.

He took the smooth cool stone into his palms and caressed it remembering what it stood for; Kolopak, his father. He placed the stone back on the animal skin and reached for the black bird's wing and petted the jet black feather remembering his mother and her silky black hair. Chakotay sighed, he missed them. He wished for their guidance. He took out the akoona and began his spirit walk.

"A-koo-chee-moya, I am far from the roots of my ancestors, far from the bones of my people, I ask my guide to be present with me and guide me through this time".

Chakotay opened his eyes to his favorite place that he used to play when he was young. He stood up and scanned the area; finding the joy in being home again. He looked around scanning through the trees to see at what time of day it was. The tall foresting trees hung high above him. The cool air created visible puffs when he let out a breath. The ferns near the ground had droplets of water rolling off their slender and delicate leaves, telling a story of a storm that just passed.

He continued to scan further down the forest and heard a twig snap behind him. Chakotay turned to the sound and met eyes with his animal guide. The she-wolf padded over to Chakotay with excitement.

"It is good to speak with you again little one," the she-wolf greeted.

"And I with you my guide"

"You look troubled, what is it you came to speak to me about?"

"As you know, I am now very far from home, and on another ship. On that new ship, I am serving under Captain Janeway and I have had dreams of her and of the future and I am unsure what it means. When I was separated from my body all I could think of was her and be drawn to her."

"I know of this Janeway I have seen her, I aided her when you where apart from your body"

"Aided her? Are you also her guide?"

"Of course not young one, guides only have one charge for the charge's entire life. I was merely aiding her connection to her own animal guide."

"But she-wolf, why do I feel so drawn to my captain? Why do I see her in my dreams?"

"Patience, you will know very soon. I am all knowing, but if I told you everything, there would be nothing left to learn."

Chakotay was not very satisfied with the answer his guide gave, but to some extent understood it, "I understand and I will be patient."

Chakotay ended the spirit walk and wrapped up his medicine bundle. He checked the time once more and called to the computer, "Computer locate Captain Janeway".

"Captain Janeway is on Turbo lift 1 moving towards the bridge".

Captain's log, stardate 48975.1. Evansville wasn't exaggerating when he said they have a lot to be proud of here. It was an amazing experience, but it's left me a little disturbed.

Katheryn Janeway finished her report and thoughtfully gazed out at the view port. An odd experience to be sure. To see sunlight and greenery as opposed to the usual streaming starlight when the ship was at warp. She sighed letting the foreign sunlight caress her face. Even though the view port offered UV protection she could somehow feel the sun through the window.

Walking through the civilization the descendants of the 37's built, it made Janeway think of home. They had towns resembling a few centuries behind but it was thriving. There were skyscrapers elegantly designed and many incorporations of art and its own culture. Katheryn's mind began to wander. If these people could survive in the Delta Quadrant why couldn't her crew? Was she foolish in still continuing her crew's journey home? It had been a long 8 months. She released another sigh and rested her pondering mind onto her hand.

'I don't know if I am ready to give up on you Mark…' She thought to herself.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a chime on her ready room door.

"Come in", She called, still gazing at the planet's landscape.

Chakotay entered, holding a pad in his hand. His eyes wandered over to the captain. This was one of the first times he viewed her so much at ease, yet he could feel her mental unease. The sunlight coming in through the view port was creating an angel-like glow over her. Her milky skin sparkled; casting a rosy flush at her cheeks. Her beautiful auburn hair looked more fiery than ever. Shadows from the sunlight cast light and shadow that accentuated the curves of her body.

'She's so beautiful and graceful in every way…', A stray thought entered his mind.

Chakotay shook the thoughts from his mind and slipped back into command, "Here's the damage report you asked for."

"Thank you", Janeway said, reaching for the pad Chakotay extended to her.

Her crystal blue eyes met Chakotay's and he felt a wave of a mixture of emotions.

"Is something wrong, Captain? You've seemed a little distracted ever since we came back from the cities. Weren't you impressed?" Chakotay inquired, feeling the overwhelming desire to be close to her and comfort her.

Janeway turned back from her longing gaze into the not so alien horizon and turned to Chakotay. The sun now creating a halo around her as her eyes began to gather moisture, "A little too impressed.", She said, trying to gain control of her strong emotions.

"What do you mean?", Chakotay said, wanting to run a soothing hand down her shoulder but deciding against it.

"There's a thriving, sophisticated culture on this planet. Of human beings. In some ways walking around those cities was almost like being back on Earth", Janeway explained passionately somber.

Chakotay now couldn't help but think this was the most beautiful and strong woman he had laid eyes on. He listened to every word she said but couldn't help but caress her with his eyes.

Chakotay confided in her, "It was a little eerie. It reminded me of home, too"

"Evansville has offered to let any of our crew stay." Janeway said, hoping to not open the door for Chakotay to leave.

"What will you do about that?" Chakotay asked, eyes and mind lightyears away.

With the question, Janeway rose from her warm place next to the window to pace, "Maybe this is one of those decisions that the captain has to make for the entire ship."

Playing devil's advocate, Chakotay mused, "You may have a problem if a lot of people want to stay."

"I know that, but at the same time I can't take a vote every time there's a major decision to be made.", Janeway gestured with her hands in defeat, "And yet, we're a long way from Starfleet, and a lot of the rules and regulations I've learnt to uphold seem distant as well.", She said, softening her posture, returning to sit next to Chakotay.

"Am I the only one who's so intent on getting home? Is it just me? Am I leading the crew on a forlorn mission with no real hope of success?", Janeway said solemnly , opening up herself to Chakotay.

"Am I alone?" Chakotay thought he heard Janeway say.

"You're not alone.", Chakotay said soothingly.

He reached his left arm to rest on the couch between them, "I want to get home, too. And there's not a day that goes by when I don't hear someone mention Earth."

"The people here have built a new Earth. We could stay, help them build a human civilization in the Delta Quadrant. Isn't that an exciting prospect? Shouldn't we be grateful for the opportunity they're giving us?" She mused.

Chakotay took a moment to picture what that would be like. The joy of being back on land, to have the connection back to the universe and a new planet. To toss aside the rules of command he was starting to get used to these past 8 months. He would definitely get to see Janeway let her hair down more since she too would have to let go of command. He could actually get to know Katheryn. Maybe something more. Chakotay paused in his musings. A loss of command would kill Janeway. Being Captain is a part of her. He couldn't do that to her.

"It is a tempting prospect, but when I hold it up against the prospect of seeing the sun rise over the Arizona desert, or swimming in the Gulf of Mexico on a summer's day, there's just no comparison. I want to go home." Chakotay poetically mused, his eyes glittering as they met Katheryn's.

Kathryn smiled at Chakotay's passion for wanting to get home. It reinforced what he said earlier, that she wasn't alone. For the past hour she wasn't sure if he wanted to go home. Especially because of the prosecution that awaited him and his crew.

"We have one hundred and fifty two men and women on this ship. What happens if half of them decide to stay on the planet? Could we operate Voyager with seventy five crew members?" Janeway stated in a business tone.

"I doubt it. In fact I don't think we could operate the ship with fewer than one hundred. If too many of the crew choose to stay behind, we could all be stranded here." Chakotay responded with muted anxiety, hoping that they would only lose a few crew members.

Chakotay felt Janeway's turmoil of wanting to stay come to a resolution. It was up to the crew to decide on whether or not she would be able to fly or be a caged bird on the planet, desperate to fly home.

"Tell all hands to prepare for an announcement from the Captain at fourteen hundred hours. They deserve to make the choice for themselves." Janeway commanded.

"Aye, Captain." Chakotay responded, glad he could ease some of her worries.

After taking a walk outside of the ship and speaking with Amelia Earhart, Janeway walked back waiting for the crew and her fate to be decided. Katheryn took her time walking back to the ship. This could be the first time of many walking this planet, or her last. She was never a fan of being out of control of situations in her life. Maybe that was one of her motivations for entering the command structure of Starfleet instead of Science.

Chakotay met with Janeway in the corridor to walk to the cargo bay to see which crew members decided to stay behind. The air between them grew stagnant and silent.

Walking closer to Chakotay so he could hear her, Janeway said in an informal tone, "Who do you think we are going to lose?"

"I expect Jarvin will stay on the planet. In fact, I'd bet on it." Chakotay said with a solemn tone.

"Why Jarvin?", Janeway looked up from bowing her head in surprise.

"He's been more uncomfortable about being on a Starfleet ship than most of the Maquis, and he's gotten involved with a young woman in Quantum Mechanics. I think they'd like to settle down, raise a family."

'A luxury I'll never have', Janeway thought.

"The person I expect to see is Baxter." Janeway said with confidence.

"Baxter? Walter Baxter?", It was now Chakotay's turn to respond in surprise.

"He's adventurous, a risk taker. I can see him wanting to take on the challenge of building a new life on this planet."

"I'd hate to lose Baxter. He's a good man." Chakotay said wistfully.

"I'd hate to lose Jarvin." Janeway said, looking up at Chakotay realizing how well their crews are melding together.

"I don't want to lose anyone. We've all been through so much together, it just wouldn't seem right.", Janeway said looking at her boots, anxiety starting to rear its ugly head.

"But I couldn't blame anyone, anyone for staying behind." She continued to speak her mind.

She looked up to Chakotay expressing the sentiment towards him. If he wanted to stay behind she wouldn't blame him. He recognized this, and thought to himself that it never occurred to him. He would never leave her. She continued to gaze up at Chakotay hoping he didn't change his mind and wanted to stay. Answering her silent question he said, "Neither do I but my place is here".

She smiled at him that he rejected the idea of leaving. She took a breath, her body stiffened with the uncertainty she had to face behind the cargo bay doors, "I'm not sure I want to go in."

Chakotay sensed her fear and the love and closeness she was growing for the crew. Without a second thought he put a reassuring hand on her left shoulder and for a second Janeway thought Chakotay was going to pull her close and kiss her. She instinctively looked down at his lips. Her body begins to soften at this warm touch. Chakotay sees her flush and decides to not do what he most desperately wants. He was aware that she was still mourning the loss of her fiance. This wasn't the time.

"No matter what happens we will make it". Chakotay said as he looked deep into her eyes.

Janeway looked into his caramel brown eyes and smiled and accepted his promise. She put her right hand atop his in silent thanks and walked into the cargo bay, wanting to ease her anxieties about who she was about to lose from her crew.

As the doors open and the cargo bay is empty. She let out a sigh of relief and almost cried tears of joy. She looked up at Chakotay and their eyes met once more. Both in shared relief. Chakotay noticed how her eyes sparkled even though they were filled with tears. He couldn't fight the instinctual pull to be around her, protect her at all cost. He knew from that moment how strong she was but when she was vulnerable he needed to be there to support and protect her. It was an honor that she was willing to be vulnerable around him. Their friendship had been growing these past few months, but this overwhelming outpouring of love for her was unavoidable. Even with being recently betrayed by Seska, he knew that his wounded heart was safe with her.

Even if she didn't reciprocate his feelings now and they could still get home any day, long term Katheryn would have to eventually give up Mark. In the meantime, he would just be there for her in any way she wanted him. A friend, a support, a lover.

A few days had passed since Voyager met with the 37's. As promised Neelix made preparations for the crew's holiday party.

Janeway walked the corridors admiring the Talaxian's touch of holiday decor that was placed on decks 2 and 3. Silver and Gold tinsel lined the corridors of deck 2 leading to the mess hall. Janeway exited the turbo lift on deck 3, and headed to her quarters. Coming up on her door, and next to it the commander's quarters, she noticed that paper mache snowflakes were hanging from the ceiling. She smiled to herself wondering how Neelix knew about the earth tradition of making the snowflakes.

Once she entered she prepared for the holiday party later that night. She opened her small closet and scanned its contents. Nothing seemed to fit the occasion. She didn't pack many personal clothes. Their mission was only supposed to be short term. She made her way to the replicator and decided on an emerald velvet dress and nude colored heels. As Katheryn left her bedroom there was a chime at her door.

"Come in", She called to the door as she secured the small gold hoop earrings she rarely got the chance to wear.

Chakotay entered her quarters holding a small rectangular box and Janeway's perfume caressed his senses. His eyes found Janeway and couldn't help but take her in. She was focusing on fastening her gold hoop earrings but all that Chakotay could focus on was her legs. The dress she was wearing had a slit ending half way up her thigh. Though the dress was long, it was classy and accentuated her hips. The flowy quarter length sleeves of the dress gave the look some femininity. He took his time admiring her and trailed his eyes up to her collar bone, that he rarely saw. It was always covered up by the turtle neck of her starfleet uniform. Her red hair was down and styled to frame her face just right, a clip behind her right ear to pin back some hair out of her face. Chakotay cleared his throat, ending his mind's exploration.

"I thought you would like an escort to the party tonight", Chakotay said, filling the silence that accumulated in the room.

"Thank you, I'm just about ready"

"Before we go I have a gift for you", Chakotay said as he extended a wrapped rectangular box.

"Oh Chakotay, you didn't have to. The wrapping is beautiful." She said as she accepted the gift.

She took a moment to admire the wrapping. The medium sized box had a mistletoe pattern on it and the green of the leaves had a soft felt texture to it. The box was topped with a red ribbon that matched portions of the mistletoe and also had gold trimming.

"I actually have something for you as well", She said as she set the gift on her coffee table and turned to her bedroom.

She emerged from the room with a circular blue and gold hat box with a large bow atop it. A smile crosses her face and Chakotay can't help but match it. They both sat at the couch under the starry viewport to unwrap their gifts.

"Now I should say the same back to you. You didn't have to. We have very few rations", He said with jest.

"It was well spent. Now open the gift, the suspense is killing me." Katheryn demanded.

Chakotay slowly untied the large bow of the box. He lifted the lid to reveal a beige circular floor pillow. A large smile graced his features. "A meditation pillow"

Seeing the joy across Chakotay's face Katheryn moved closer to Chakotay on the couch, "I noticed when you went on spirit walks you would sit on the floor. I thought you could use more comfort while we are here."

There was a pause as Chakotay met Janeway's eyes in gratitude. She couldn't help but feel something else in the air, "I consulted Tuvok on the subject and he helped me choose the most comfortable cushion".

"Thank you Captain, it will be put to great use", Chakotay said with a lighthearted tone.

She smiled at Chakotay, relieved that he liked the gift.

"I believe it is your turn" Chakotay motioned to the unopened box on the coffee table.

"Ah yes" Janeway gracefully reached for the gift on the table.

'What could the commander get for me? This box is too small for clothing. Too large for jewelry. Not the right shape for a book', She mused to herself.

Katheryn gave up on guessing and pulled the loose ribbon leaving the deep red bow. As it slowly unraveled, the gold trim shined. Janeway found satisfaction in the way the bow unfurled at the slightest bit of pressure applied. She discarded the ribbon on the coffee table. Chakotay watched her as she unwrapped the gift, wondering if she figured out what it was by the shape of the container. He watched intently as she pulled out a glass container.

Katheryn was unsure of what lied in the container. She opened a glass storage container with curiosity. She made a quick glance at Chakotay to see if he could give her any clues.

As she unlocked the airtight seal, the smell of chocolate and coffee wafted to her nose. In response, her mouth began to water. Chocolate coffee fudge.

"This smells amazing Chakotay. How many replicator rations did this cost?" Katheryn inquired.

"Oh, I didn't replicate them, I replicated the ingredients and made the fudge myself." Chakotay explained.

"It's very thoughtful. Thank you", Katheryn smiled and felt her cheeks turn red.

'Anything for you', Chakotay thought.

Katheryn thought she heard Chakotay say something, but did not see his lips move and brushed it off. She put a hand on his shoulder in thanks.

"Let me put this in a stasis container so I can enjoy these later", Katheryn managed to say in her flustered state.

Janeway gets up from the couch and replicates the container. Chakotay followed and stood behind her and put a hand on hers to announce his presence. "Allow me".

Chakotay transferred the fudge over and extended an arm to her, "Ready to go?"

Janeway looped a small arm through his, "Yes lets see what Mr. Neelix has in store for us", She said with a laugh.

A/N: I hope you all enjoyed it. Reviews are welcome. I feel like the Christmas plot line could be a separate fanfiction of its own. Let me know if that is something you guys would like to read. More chapters to come, be sure to follow. Also apologies for odd formatting of this chapter the site was down and I decided to post from my phone instead of my PC.