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"We have, you know."

"Have what?"

"Come a long way." I reply.

She picks up her drink and sips slowly.

"I hope that one day you'll realise that these years have not been a bad thing." I say suddenly. She doesn't say anything, which is an answer in itself.

"Sometimes I think so. Then I look at someone like B'Elanna... I thought she had really made something for herself here. Lately she's been flying off the handle so quickly..." Her voice trails off. "I don't know...maybe it's this place, Chakotay."

I don't know what else to do, so I speak.


Untitled
by Suz



The smoke rose from the fire in an elegant pirouette before being drawn away by the extractors. Chakotay watched the absorbing movements, happy for now just to sit by the fire in silence with his friends.

There was definitely something to be said for embracing the past. It wasn't until after his father died that he truly began to embrace his heritage, but it was small things like this that he really appreciated. Not everything had to be set in the twenty-forth Century. He would have preferred not to have the extractors, but they were a necessary concession. The ventilation in this system of caves wasn't particularly good and Hogan had voice his fears about Carbon Dioxide poisoning. Not a likely possibility, but they didn't need to take more risks than were absolutely necessary.

Around the fire with him and Hogan also sat Seska, Ayala and O'Donnell. Kurt Bandera was also supposed to be here, but he'd been delayed by something. Nothing to worry about, he was sure. Something was also breaking down on the 'Liberty' and Chakotay was certain that Kurt would want to help B'Elanna fix anything. He had quite the crush on her.

Smiling at the thought, he quickly raised his mug to his mouth and took a sip of the putrid coffee hoping that no one would notice and wouldn't ask him what he was smiling about. Glancing over at Seska and Ayala, he noticed that their almost whispered conversation was slowly becoming louder and more animated. They weren't having a disagreement about anything from what he could tell, maybe...Seska and Ayala? That was certainly a strange idea.

Finally having enough of whatever Ayala was saying, Seska turned her face toward Chakotay and grinned in that mischevious way she had. Their relationship had long since ended, but he never failed to notice how attractive she was. She'd cut her hair lately, which was something of a shame although he could understand her reasons. Apparently being in the Maquis didn't provide you with all the...what had she called it? Beauty products? Something like that. Whatever it was, being in the Maquis was not good for your hair, so she decided to get rid of some of it.

The ridges on her nose wrinkled slightly more than usual as her smile grew. "Fine, we'll ask your opinion Chakotay."

He swallowed another gulp of his coffee. "My opinion about what?"

She nodded her head toward Ayala. "We were just discussing how we need a symbol."

"A symbol?"

"Uh hu. You know, the Maquis. Think about it, every organisation of some kind has a symbol. The Federation, Bajor, Cardassia..." Everyone, including herself, scowled at her last suggestion. "Okay, bad example. Anyway, we were just thinking that we should get one so whenever someone sees it they know who they're dealing with."

Whenever they saw the ship and it's equipment falling apart they'd soon realise who they were dealing with, Chakotay thought darkly. Instead of voicing his thoughts he raised his eyebrows. "We're not exactly an 'organisation'. But what kind of symbol did you have in mind?"

Seska smirked. "Your tattoo."

The mug froze half-way up to his mouth. "My tattoo?" The mug was brought down again.

"Yes, I thought it would be a nice touch you know. It symbolises your own search for justice and represents your ancestors, but it's also...different. You know, if someone saw it they wouldn't know what it meant but they'd instantly know that it stood for something."

"I...see."

Ayala interrupted, a smile on his dark face. "I pointed out that you might not appreciate it. It might be too personal for you."

They both had good points. He didn't particularly want his tattoo to be used for that purpose, and unconciously reached up his free hand to rub it.

He was saved from responding when footsteps echoed loudly through the cave. Everyone grabbed their weapons and in the space of mere nanoseconds had them pointed at the only entrance to this section. Kurt Bandera walked in, his hands already raised in mock surrender. "Hey, take it easy guys."

Small chuckles and obscenities were passed around. "By the Prophets Kurt! Give us a little warning next time!"

Apologising he grinned, but Chakotay could see that it was insincere.

The others relaxed, but Kurt looked at Chakotay and nodded toward the exit. Getting the hint, Chakotay handed his mug to Hogan. "Here you are Si. Make sure O'Donnell keeps his hands off this disgusting cup of coffee. I want the rest of it when I come back."

Standing, he winced as a few bones clicked, then edged around the group to follow Kurt out. His friend led the way, walking through the criss-crossing cave system not needing to look around much to know the way.

"Kurt...what is it?"

Kurt sighed and stopped walking. "It's B'Elanna."

*

He found her in the small engine room of the 'Liberty', muttering Klingon oaths and pounding on something - he wasn't sure what, but it was definitely metal and made a hell of a racket. He finally located her on the opposite side of the warp core, trying to pull open a piece of panelling.

Where to start? He was furious.

"You shouldn't be some place where I could find you easily." His voice was low, but it was intense enough for her to hear it. The clanging stopped, and the last thump echoed through the room.

Slowly, she stood up, still facing away from him. In her hand she held a tool and she shook her head. "I guess you found out." She stated, resigned.

He clenched his fist. "It's not exactly something you can keep a secret."

Chuckling, she threw the tool down on the metal grating of the floor, it's impact shuddering noisily. She became quiet, contemplative. "I'm sorry."

"That's not going to cut it this time B'Elanna. I can't believe you did this." He knew what he had to say. The only thing that would really get his message across. It wasn't anger, frustration or sadness. It was guilt.

B'Elanna spun to face him, her arms as expressive as her words. "Dammit Chakotay, this was a great opportunity! How often is something like this going to happen? How often are the Cardassians going to be this stupid? Dreadnought is just what we've been waiting for! You know how difficult it's been lately trying to strike back at them, and-"

"I know B'Elanna. This *was* an opportunity. But this...was not...something you did without permission or even discussing with me."

She looked away from him, guiltily staring at the floor. He took a step forward, invading her personal space. He kept his voice soft, knowing it would be more effective. "You hurt me B'Elanna. I thought I had earned your trust."

Her head jerked up suddenly, her eyes wide if somewhat moist. "You've always had it Chakotay! Don't even doubt that. This was just something I *needed* to do."

He stared down at her hardly. "Why?"

B'Elanna turned her gaze away from him again, but he lifted up his hand to hold her chin still, maintaining eye contact. She tried to pull free but he wouldn't release his grip. Finally she conceeded defeated, if not gracefully. "I had the target all figured out Chakotay - one of their munitions stores - but I wanted it to take them by surprise. I needed to send it out when their patrol was on the other side of the planet. I didn't have a long window of opportunity and by the time I told you, you thought about it and decided whether to let me or not we would have been out of time."

"Bullshit Torres. You could have picked another target. You know what I think? I think you wanted to be the hero. That's part of the reason why you joined the Maquis, isn't it?"

She tried to deny it but he knew it was part of the truth. She had a right to be here - she'd lost close friends due to the Cardassians - but this particular incident was driven by her need to be the hero for once. From what little she'd told him of her past it had not been happy. Her Klingon and Human sides were constantly conflicting with each other so she was hardly ever truly happy. He sympathised with her - he knew a little of what it was like to be stuck between worlds - but she shouldn't have done this.

She continued staring at his chin, unable to pull away from him but also unable to continue looking him in the eye. There was nothing more she was going to say, nothing more she could say.

Removing his hand, he almost felt sorry for the pain he saw on her face but as soon as he let go she pulled back and crossed her arms against her chest defensively. She was always that way.

Leaning down, he picked up the hyperspanner she'd dropped and handed it out. Blinking slowly, she pulled her right hand free and placed her hand on the end he was offering her. He didn't let go for fully five seconds.

When he finally did she seemed even closer to tears, so he turned and walked out the room leaving B'Elanna alone with the hum of the warp core as her only companion.

As ever.

* * *


When I finish, I think I realise that the story was more for my benefit than anything else. It's been a long time since I've thought of that day... and, I realise, a long time since I have thought of a lot of those people. I am ashamed of that.

"I wouldn't know that B'Elanna," she says softly, laying her arm on mine.

"You wouldn't know a lot of us," I remind her.

"There's lots I don't know, isn't there?" She repeated my early statement. She looks at me and I feel like my eyes are heavy with water. "Let's go to bed, Chakotay." She pulls at my hand, and I follow her into the bedroom. I lay against her side and we both fall into sleep.

It's not over but it's at least begun.


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