Better Off Guilty

by Spiletta42

Better Off Guilty by Spiletta42


Rating: T™©


printer friendly

Warnings: I don't do dark fic, so you'll have to settle for dimly lit. Potentially triggering for captivity, and there is a spot of violence, so if those things could be an issue for you, please click here for details which some may consider spoilers.

Categories: Ship, Het, Romance, Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Cliche!Fic

Pairings: Janeway/Chakotay

Characters: Janeway, Chakotay

Spoilers: none

A/N: Written for Trapped, Stranded, Captured, Lost at Talent Night. A favorite fic cliche.

Credits: Thank you to Squirrelly, Anne Rose, and Kim for extensive beta work. You all know precisely how bad this fic would be without your not so kind words and very kind help, and I'm not just saying that, folks. This one put up a bit of a fight. Thank you to KJ, from whom I stole a few plot ideas.

Disclaimer: It's called sharing, Paramount. Didn't you learn anything in nursery school?

Better Off Guilty

Better Off Guilty

All Chakotay had wanted was a few hours alone with Kathryn. He wanted to call her by name instead of rank, and enjoy the unspoken intimacy of her company. He had arranged it carefully, and when both Kathryn and Tuvok ignored the obvious issues regarding a captain and first officer leaving the ship together, he knew she wanted it too.

As soon as the Delta Flyer left the shuttle bay, headed for a simple scouting mission, Kathryn poured herself a large mug of coffee and handed him a cup of tea.

The random unknown aliens didn't attack immediately. For nearly an hour, they enjoyed good coffee, great conversation and even a few exchanges that bordered on flirting.

A feeling of well-being surrounded him, and he could tell that Kathryn felt it as well. She needed to relax occassionally, and he gave thanks for the fact that she could relax with him. Their mutual need for friendship outweighed his need to hold her. He hoped the answering longing he sometimes thought he saw in her eyes was more than just his own wishful thinking, and that someday they would have more than brief touches and veiled promises.

He knew she worried about how a relationship between them might impact upon Starfleet's decisions regarding the former Maquis among the crew. Before they had learned of the Dominion War, he had as well. Now, he had every reason to believe that there was very little chance any of them would see the inside of a Federation prison cell.

Still, Kathryn had reasons to not explore a romantic relationship, and he respected them. The time would come, and even if it never did, he cherished her friendship.

A smile spread across her face, and he realized he was staring at her. "More coffee," he asked.

"You know the way to my heart," she answered.

He rose to get it, and allowed himself to believe that she referred to more than just the coffee.

The Delta Flyer rocked under an assault of weapons fire, and he turned back. The coffee was forgotten.

Cold penetrated her body and dragged her out of a deep but restless sleep full of vivid, unpleasant dreams. Time and again consoles aboard the Delta Flyer erupted in sparks while the small ship lurched under enemy fire. The sparks turned cold, until the only reality was a solid chill, and she realized she was awake.

Kathryn decided that the source of the cold was the hard steel deck beneath her face. She struggled to think, to sit up and make sense of the situation. When she moved, a sharp pain behind her eyes obscured her thoughts and she sank back into a darkness she almost welcomed.

Chakotay woke on a hard surface. The air smelled stale, as if it hadn't been recycled properly, and he could feel what he thought was deck plating vibrating beneath him. He sat up and strained his eyes against the darkness. His surroundings eluded him, as did his memory. His stomach rolled sicky when he tried to move. The darkness couldn't hide the fog that wrapped itself around his thoughts and separated him from awareness again.

"The Delta Flyer is not responding to hails."

A dozen quips flashed through Tom's mind. Had he been sitting at the helm, he might have used one of them, but they were inappropriate while he was in command. "Give them a few minutes and try again."

"Aye sir."

The five minutes passed slowly. The Flyer appeared on sensors, although not quite at the rendezvous coordinates. Voyager was not ahead of schedule, and Tom doubted that the commanding officers would be this sloppy without cause.

The situation smelled of trouble.

Scans showed no signs of damage.

"Approach with caution," Tom said. "Hail them again."

This time the hail wasn't ignored. "They are powering up weapons, sir."

"Red alert," Tom said. "Evasive maneuvers. Shields."

Consciousness returned, and this time she overcame the pain enough to thoroughly study the darkness around her. Her combadge produced nothing but static; what else would it produce in this situation? On hands and knees she began a systematic exploration of the area. The first thing she encountered was a warm body.

A male body, wearing fabric that her fingers recognized as Starfleet. She touched a rank bar as she searched for a pulse. "Chakotay?"

He groaned in response. "Kathryn, what happened?"

"I haven't figured that out yet," she admitted. "We were on the Delta Flyer, we were attacked and boarded. I'm fairly certain we've been drugged."

"I knew your coffee would eventually get the better of me."

She smiled in the dark. "Give it a few minutes. You'll remember. In the meantime, let's see if there's a way out of here."

They ran their hands over the smooth walls, systematically searching for an opening or door panel. The room was small, without an obvious door or even a convenient vent.

"Maybe it opens higher up?" she suggested. "Give me a boost."

She couldn't see his cupped hands in the darkness. She bit back a gasp when his hand trailed down her leg. He lifted her foot, and she gave a little hop which landed them both against the wall, her body pressed tightly against his.

"Let's try that again, shall we?" he asked, and she must have imagined that his voice sounded a bit hoarse.

He wrapped his arms around her, lifting her up, and this time she could reach the ceiling. She ran her hands over it and tried to ignore where Chakotay's hands had landed. The ceiling seemed to be made out of the same material as the walls and the floor.

"Feel anything?." He asked, his voice too loud in the dark.

"Nothing," she said. "Move to the left."

He carried her around the room as she made a thorough study of the ceiling. "What is this, a storage locker? Let's hope it isn't air-tight."

"No luck at all?"


"Then I guess we wait." He placed her back on her feet. Together they sank to the floor and moved close to ward off the chill. She had wanted some time alone with Chakotay, but this wasn't quite what she had planned.

The wait didn't end quickly. Although hardly a scientific measurement, that they counted three childhood anecdotes each and a summary of Ensign Kim's recent dating history hinted that significant time had passed. Kathryn was also sure she had felt the ship drop out of warp just after Chakotay detailed Harry's failure to court Ensign Brooks.

"Stand," A burly humanoid alien ordered. "Time to move."

The sudden intrusion of light stung their eyes as they climbed to their feet.

"I am Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager, and I demand to know why we are being held here."

"Time to move," he replied, and waved a weapon at them.

Kathryn seethed, but she didn't argue, even when two more burly aliens, sloppily dressed and both equally in need of a sonic shower, entered and bound their hands behind their backs. Their combadges were confiscated, then they were marched out into a corridor.

The walls were close together and metallic. After they passed through a series of doors that Kathryn was certain served as an airlock, they moved down an incline and into an area with walls of stone.

She felt Chakotay tense beside her when the guards indicated that they were to be separated. Not having a better option, she let the guard lead her into a brightly lit room, where a uniformed alien sat behind a tall desk.

"State your name."

"Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager," she answered. "Now tell me why we are here."

"Do not deny your guilt."


"Do not deny your guilt, or it will be harder on you."

She looked the alien in the eye. "I am guilty of nothing, and neither is my first officer. I demand that we be released immediately."

"You are not in a position to make demands." He eyed her up and down. "Perhaps we can reach a bargain. You can avoid prison if you agree to my terms."

She leaned towards him and dropped her voice another octave. "I assure you that I will be leaving here on my terms, not yours."

"I don't think you understand. You will either confess, testify against your accomplice, and serve your term as a servant, or you will go to prison."

If they wanted her testimony it meant they had some form of trial planned. She filed that fact away. "I demand to know the charges against me."

"If you had the list of charges you would have time to fabricate lies before your trial."

"If I were guilty I would already know the charges." She had a feeling that logic wasn't going to work here, but she had to try. "Since I have done nothing wrong, I seem to be at a disadvantage."

"We have other ways of extracting your testimony. I'll give you one last chance to do as I ask. Do we have a deal?"

"Absolutely not. I would like to speak to legal counsel."

"Do you have money to pay for one?"

"My ship can provide compensation."

"Do you have money to pay for one?"

"I just said -- "

"I don't see a ship. Do you have money with you?"


"Then how can you expect to speak with legal counsel?"

"Contact my ship. They -- "

"We are finished here."

Chakotay had found himself charged with unspecified crimes, threatened, denied legal counsel, and finally offered a chance to sell out his captain. They met his denial of the offer with scorn and flung him back into the dark cell, alone.

Fear for Kathryn nagged at him. His interrogator had threatened violence; he worried that hers might have carried out a similar threat. The thought of Kathryn being tortured twisted his gut into knots.

She returned, visibly angry but apparently unharmed, and it was all he could do not to pull her into his arms. The door slammed shut and they were again plunged into utter blackness.

"Did you learn anything?" she asked.

"Not much." He shrugged, but knew she couldn't see the gesture in the darkness. "We're accused of a crime of some type, but they aren't particularly forthcoming with the details."

"There will be some kind of trial," she said. "Else they wouldn't need our testimony."

"Think they might feed us in the meantime?" Chakotay asked.

"Coffee would be good," she replied, and they both chuckled a little and settled back against the wall.

Norling leaned back in his chair. He knew Uddoj was waiting, but he was satisfied with that state of affairs. He enjoyed making people wait.

He poured himself a drink. The alien woman was attractive. He hoped she'd take the bargain he had offered. Still, there were always other ways of obtaining things he desired.

Uddoj was still waiting. He called for his entrance.

"Does the product suit?" Uddoj asked.

"They might do," he answered. "But they refused to bargain."

Uddoj laughed. "Your guards will get them to bargain. The price stands."

"Very well," Norling agreed. It did not advance his position to bargain. The price was fair. "I'll send my men for them tomorrow morning."

"And my payment?"

"It will be at the drop tonight."

The guards brought only one dish of food and stood in the doorway watching them. Chakotay retrieved it and handed it to Kathryn. The guards left, arguing among themselves regarding the validity of a wager.

"They expected us to fight for it," Kathryn said.

"We might have to, eventually," he answered. "If they don't find us entertaining, they might separate us."

"I hope not." She moved closer to him. "It's cold in here."

"And here I thought you'd miss me," he said. "Have you tasted our dinner yet?"

"I'm not that brave," she answered. "You try it first."

"The things I do for my captain." He dipped his finger into the substance, braced himself, and tasted it. "Delicious."

"It is not."

"It's like creamed leola root stewed with old socks. We have to make sure Neelix doesn't get the recipe."

"He's made worse." She laughed. "Just be glad he hasn't tried to feed you that old Talaxian remedy for insomnia."

"Did it work?"

"Thank goodness no." She shuddered. "Imagine if I had to use it regularly."

"Speaking of sleep, we should probably get some," Chakotay said.

Kathryn looked up at him, although she couldn't see his face in the dark. "How do you suggest we do that?"

"Put your head in my lap," he said. "It's better than the cold floor."

"And what are you planning to do?"

"I'll be fine."

Once again, he was trying to take care of her, instead of himself. "I'll make you a deal."

"What's that?"

"I'll go along with your suggestion, but only if we sleep in shifts."


"You first," she said. "Since when have I been able to fall asleep early?"

After a long silence, he sighed and settled down with his head on her thigh. She held back the urge to stroke his hair, but found herself completely baffled as to what to do with her hands. It was going to be a long night.

Tuvok would find them, and he would find a way to work things out with the planetary officials. Whatever ship had abducted them from the ready room had to have left an ion trail for the crew to follow. She didn't let herself think that any other members of her crew were being held here as well.

Escape wasn't an option at the moment. They were locked in some sort of cargo hold that didn't even open from the inside. From the temperature, she was starting to wonder if it might be meant as food storage. Starfleet regulations were very clear about abiding by local law, but that didn't exactly apply. Granted, they were accused of some offense, but the regs applied to crews who actually visited planets, not to personnel kidnapped from their own ships. Still, at this point they had little choice but to wait for a diplomatic solution, or at least an opportunity to escape.

In the meantime, they'd make do. Even if that meant a bit more togetherness than they usually shared.

Ayala's skilled shooting had disabled the Delta Flyer's shields quickly, and the occupants of the small ship had found themselves beamed aboard Voyager and deposited in the brig.

After his initial interrogation failed to reveal the location of the captain and commander, Tuvok left their guests in Neelix's care. Perhaps a little Talaxian cooking would loosen their lips.

For a moment, Tuvok wondered if that might constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Then he decided he had been spending entirely too much time in the company of Tom Paris. All three of the prisoners had been carrying paper currency. Perhaps tracing it to the government that printed it would be a start.

Chakotay found sleep elusive, and not because of the cold deck beneath him. With his head in Kathryn's lap, he barely noticed the cold. Her thigh was warm under his cheek, and he found it easy to imagine that her fingers were stroking his hair with tender affection. His blood burned as it raced through him. He reminded himself of their friendship, and the command structure, and tried to ignore his attraction to her.

Eventually his body calmed, and he was able to focus on the comfort of her nearness. At least they were in this together. It would be so much worse if he were back on the ship, searching for her, not knowing if she was even still alive.

Conditions weren't great, but they had made it out of tighter spots in the past. They would come through this as well.

Kathryn woke up the next morning with her head in Chakotay's lap. She barely remembered changing places the night before. It seemed she had slept well, for once, in spite of the circumstances, or perhaps thanks to a few specific details of them. She extracted herself from beneath the arm draped over her.

"Good morning," he said. "How did you sleep?"

"Very well, considering," she said. "You?"

"I've slept in worse places," he answered. "Remind me to tell you about that cave on Bajor sometime."


"I much prefer your lap to Dalby's."

She had to smile at that.

The guards appeared promptly this time, now dressed in uniforms similiar to the one Kathryn had seen on her interviewer the evening before, and they were escorted to a new location. Again, the corridors widened and the walls turned to stone after they passed through a pair of doors and down an incline.

The new cell was dimly lit, but it was a great improvement over total darkness. There was also a small cot against the wall, and a curtained area containing bathroom facilities. Luxurious, compared to their previous accommodations.

"I'm not sure I like this," Chakotay said. "This looks long term."

She nodded and collapsed on the cot. When he didn't join her immediately, she patted the spot beside her. "Don't be shy now."

He gave her a little smile. "Would have been nice if they had moved us last night."

He sat down close beside her and she reached for his hand. "Let's just be grateful that we can finally see. And if this is the official jail, we might be able to prove our case and get out of here."

They didn't have long to wait. The guards returned, and this time they only took Kathryn. She gave him a warning look, and although his eyes flashed angrily he didn't object.

The same uniformed alien as before waited behind a tall desk. "Do you now agree to give testimony against your accomplice?"

"I do not." She met his gaze evenly. "Do you now agree to explain the charges against us?"

"I have a better option today." He turned to the guard. "Take her to interrogation."

Chakotay paced the cell as he waited for Kathryn's return. The length of her absence worried him. Every sound sent him whirling in the direction of the doorway. When she did return, his heart froze in his chest.

"Kathryn!" He hurried to take her from the guards. It didn't look like she could stand on her own. "What did they do to you?"

"I'm all right," she said, although her pale face suggested otherwise.

He didn't argue with her. He just helped her over to the bunk and studied her face. "Tell me what happened."

She gave him a brave smile. "They could learn something from the Cardassians."

"Are you trying to tell me that the torture could have been worse?" He swallowed the bile that rose within him. Kathryn had been tortured, and he hadn't found a way to stop it.

"The Cardassians wouldn't have left a mark," she said. "These idiots broke my leg. Help me get my boot off."

He knelt beside the cot and removed her boot. Her leg was already swollen. "Oh Kathryn."

"Chakotay, I'll be fine."

He gently pushed her pant leg up to reveal the injury. A distinct bump indicated displaced bone. It had to hurt. It hurt him to look at it. "How did they do this?"

"They chained me to a wall and swung a hammer at it," she answered. "The tall one has a temper. Do you think you can set it?"

"I've set worse." He swallowed hard. "I think I can make you more comfortable until the Doctor can fix it right."

She nodded, and he could see her uneasiness. He hoped she couldn't read his as well. He seated himself across her thigh. No matter how brave she was, she wouldn't be able to hold still for this.

He grasped her injured leg in both hands, and pulled with a slow, steady pressure. Sweat trickled down his forehead as he strained to maintain his grip. There was the sickening sound of bone sliding over bone, and worse, Kathryn's cry of pain. But he had it; once he stretched the displaced bone past the point where it had broken, it seemed to move into its proper position without much guidance.

Closing his eyes against the threat of tears, he moved back down to the floor.


He looked up at her pale face and brave smile.

She touched his hand. "Thank you."

Kathryn's leg hurt abominably, but she focused carefully on acknowledging the pain, then not minding it. It was something she had learned from Tuvok. Pain served a function. It told you when something was damaged. It had done its job; now she needed to push it back, out of her consciousness.

It was harder to ignore Chakotay's distress. She wished that the feelings between them weren't unspoken and complicated; that she dared to comfort him. He had just been forced to cause her pain, and she could see it bothered him.

He had broken off a bit of the cot's backboard and was trying to fashion a crude splint. She knew his frustration with the project had less to do with the difficulty and more to do with his concern for her.

He swore in Klingon, something she had never heard him do before, as the wood splintered unevenly once again.

"Chakotay, it's fine."

"No, it's not," he answered. "I don't want it giving you splinters."

"A few splinters won't kill me," she said, and regretted it as the worry flashed in his eyes. "These will work fine."

He crossed the cell and tore off a piece of the curtain that concealed the bathroom facilities, then used the strips of fabric to bind the pieces of wood to her leg.

"Don't try to walk on it, Kathryn. I don't know how well this will hold."

"Thank you."

The cell door slid open; the guards were back. Chakotay sprang to his feet. "She needs medical attention," he said angrily. "Is that going to be provided?"

"Can you pay?" the guard asked. "Doctors aren't free."

"I'll work, if you let me - "

They didn't let him finish. "You'll do better than that. Come with us."

Her heart clenched with fear. They were going to hurt him, and if they broke his leg she knew she wouldn't be strong enough to set it. They didn't have any medical supplies, and she couldn't stand the thought of not being able to help him.

She climbed to her feet, telling herself that she needed to know if she could walk on her injured leg if necessary. She decided she could, although not well. Certainly not well enough to pace the floor.

Hours later, the door slid open and the guards tossed his body into the cell. Fear blocked out all other concerns as she crawled over to him and felt for a pulse.

He was alive. She released her breath and tried to figure out how she was going to move him onto the bunk. He was heavy enough without factoring in her broken leg.

She carefully probed his arms and legs, searching for breaks, and didn't know whether to be relieved when she couldn't find any. What had they done to him?

He groaned and she touched his face. "Chakotay? Talk to me."

He lifted his hand and she took it. "Kathryn?"

"Right here." She squeezed his hand. "Can you move?"

"I think so," he answered.

With her help, he managed to get to his feet. He leaned heavily against her, and she was sure her injured leg wouldn't prove up to the task. The moment she tried to support weight with it, she practically dropped him onto the cot, lost her balance, and landed half on top of him. They both gasped in pain.

She ignored the electric throbbing in her leg and sat upright. At the sight of his face, contorted in pain, she forgot all about her own injury. "Tell me what they did to you."

"Help me get my jacket off," he said.

The metallic taste of fear coated her tongue as she opened his uniform, and her stomach turned over violently when she saw the gash in his side surrounded by fresh bruises.

It looked like he had been beaten, and then met with the wrong end of a bat'leth. Long and at least an inch deep, the wound curved from his armpit to his navel. His torn shirt was soaked with blood. She didn't need extensive medical training to know that the injury could prove life threatening if it got infected, and she didn't have a way to clean it.

She shed her own uniform jacket and pulled her shirt off over her head. Clad in her tank top, she began tearing the cotton shirt into strips.

"This might hurt," she said, and waited for his nod. Then she leaned close to study the wound closely. To her relief, it didn't look quite deep enough to have punctured any internal organs, although she could plainly see the white of his ribs. She bound the wound as tightly as she could, and prayed that the guards wouldn't take him again. She could only hope that he hadn't lost too much blood already.

Escape, if an opportunity presented itself, was now a serious goal. This wasn't a matter of having to respect local laws. She and Chakotay had been taken from their own ship, had not been informed of the charges against them, and had endured torture. His life was now at stake, and that erased any remaining patience with the situation.

"How bad is it?" he asked.

"I don't think it's as bad as it looks," she said. "It doesn't look like anything's punctured."

"Good," he said. "You wouldn't lie to me, would you?"

"No, never." She took his hand, needing the contact. "How did they do it?"

"A knife," he answered. "Slowly."

She shuddered and moved closer, noticing a purpling bruise on his jaw. As she scooted forward on the cot, she bumped her leg and cried out at the dizzying rush of pain.

"Your leg," he said. "Kathryn, I'm so sorry."

"I forgot it for a moment too," she said. "Adrenaline."

"You need to elevate it, and rest," he said.

"How am I supposed to do that? And don't you think for a second that I'm going to let you get off this cot."

"Put your head on my shoulder and prop your leg up on my legs," he said.

"You're kidding me."

"It'll work, Kathryn. And," he whispered. "I don't mind the side benefits either."

She ignored that, and wincing a little as she raised the leg, she manuevered herself into position. It was a bit awkward, but she had to admit she was more comfortable once she was settled. The contact was comforting as well.

She didn't much feel like playing the protocol game. She cared for Chakotay, far more than perhaps she should as his captain, and she knew damn well that he loved her as well. Under the circumstances, they deserved to bend protocol.

Still, she wasn't ready to throw it away altogether. It wasn't yet time for declarations. That would be too much like admitting the seriousness of their situation. When she and Chakotay shared their feelings, she didn't want it to seem like a deathbed confession. She wanted him to know that she meant it, and had for a very long time.

"We'll make it out of this," Chakotay said.

His arm wrapped around her shoulders, his hand resting on the bare skin of her upper arm. It was a shame that her leg was throbbing the way it was, or she would have enjoyed the tremors his touch sent through her.

The cell door slid open and footsteps pulled her from her light sleep. She felt Chakotay tense beside her as she looked up into an unfamiliar face.

The alien reached for her, and Chakotay moved with surprising swiftness to defend her.

"Touch her, and you'll wish you hadn't," Chakotay said, his voice low and threatening.

"I'm not here to hurt you," the stranger said. "I am here to help."

"If you want to help you'll get us out of here," Chakotay said.

"I wish I could," the stranger answered. "I have contacted my superiors, but they are unwilling to send an extraction team. They say the risks are too high."

"I'm not following," Kathryn said. "Your superiors?"

"I am Kanoa. I'm here working undercover," he explained. "You are prisoners of the Consu, the people of the northern continent. They have a reputation for abusing prisoners and using torture to obtain confessions. My government wishes to stop such practices. Do you know anything of your supposed crime?"

She shook her head. "We woke up in the dark, feeling as if we had been drugged. The last thing we remember is an attack on our own ship. They won't tell us anything."

"That is common, I'm afraid. The Consu are plagued with high crime rates, and their officials wish to make it appear that they are doing something to stop it. So they fill their prisons with innocents kidnapped from passing starships."

"Where's the logic in that?" Chakotay asked.

"It's easier and cheaper than investigating the crimes."

"I see."

Kanoa pulled out a small package. "Medical supplies, some salve for your wounds. I know they have hurt you both, and I am sorry to say that they probably won't stop. They like to have a confession. It looks good in broadcasts."

"If I confess, will they let her go?" Chakotay asked.

"They might, if you are convincing enough. Those who show remorse are often shown leniency. It supports the official claims that these prisons rehabilitate their occupants. You'll need to answer questions about the crime, and you'll have to explain how you forced her to participate."

"You'll do no such thing," Kathryn said. "And that's an order, Commander."

"My superiors are aware of your situation," Kanoa said. "I will do what I can to help you. But now I have to leave before I am caught."

"Thank you," Kathryn said, biting back an urge to demand more information.

"At least we know something now," Chakotay said as the cell door slid shut again.

"Make me a promise," she said.


"Promise me you won't hurt yourself protecting me."

"Things happen in places like this," he said. "Things I will not let happen to you."

"Chakotay -- "

"Kathryn, I couldn't live with myself if -- "

"And I don't want to lose you." She laid her hand on his chest for a moment, then turned away to open the bundle that Kanoa had left. "Bandages, ointment, soap, and what looks like rations."

"No coffee?"

"No coffee," she confirmed.

"That is the currency printed by the government on the northern continent," the ambassador confirmed. "Where did you obtain it?"

"One of our shuttles was stolen," Tuvok explained. "When we found it, these men were on board. They refuse to explain their actions."

"And the pilot of your shuttle?"

"Both crewmembers on board are missing," Tuvok said.

"They were probably sold to a crooked justice official on the northern continent," the ambassador said. "We have been working to identify the individuals involved. Perhaps once the citizens of that territory are aware of the problem, things will improve."

"What prevents you from informing the citizens at this time?" Tuvok asked.

"We've tried. Their government doesn't stop us from broadcasting, nor do they stop those among their own citizens who try to spread the truth. Unfortunately, they have successfully labeled those people as conspiracy fanatics. The majority just doesn't believe them."

"I see," Tuvok said. "Do you have any suggestions on how we might retrieve our missing officers?"

"We've sent extraction teams in before, but lives are always lost. I'm afraid my government will not support such an action, unless their lives are in immediate danger."

They slept some more. There was little else to do, and it was the best way to try to avoid the pain. Chakotay didn't know how Kathryn managed to move around their cell on her splinted leg; he had trouble moving himself, and they hadn't touched his legs.

She used the ointment they had been given on his wound. It was inflamed, and the bruises flowering around it made them both worry about unseen internal injuries.

"How did they do this?" she asked, examining a particularly large bruise.

He nodded. "One of them had a short club." He wanted to tell her it could have been worse, but they both knew this wasn't over. He didn't want to imagine the next time.

Days passed. They shared the tiny cot, staying close for warmth, or so they told themselves, while trying to avoid each other's injuries. Kathryn's leg improved, or at least she claimed it did, and most of his bruises began to fade. The knife wound, however, was healing badly, and they were both beginning to fear it was infected.

On the fifth evening, Chakotay started to feel warm. He barely managed to enjoy Kathryn's touch when she pressed her hand to his forehead. Her concern showed in her eyes. "You're a little warm."

His forehead scalded her hand, the fear searing a path through her to spark a fire in her gut. Either an unseen internal injury from one of the blows, or an infection from the cruel knife wound, had given rise to a fever.

Ill equipped to care for him within their prison cell, it was all she could do for a moment not to burst into tears. Helplessness was not something Kathryn Janeway felt often. She forced herself to her feet and welcomed the distracting stab of pain from her injured leg.

For the first time since sustaining the injury, she thought about the other times this leg had been broken. The more recent memory was almost pleasant. An unremarkable accident on an away mission that had gone only slightly awry. Her life had been in danger, briefly, before Chakotay had appeared as if from nowhere and pulled off a dashing rescue like the hero of a children's holonovel or an old fairy tale.

She tried to cling to the dreamlike memory, instead of remembering the other instance. She would find a way to help Chakotay; she didn't want to think of those she had failed to help the first time she had broken her leg. She had achieved a peace, of a sort, with those events, but she couldn't bear the sudden parallel her mind was drawing now.

Circumstances were completely different, and her injury had barely been a footnote in the shuttlecraft that had stolen her father and Justin. Chakotay was not beyond help, not yet, and she would find a way to get him out of here and back to Voyager before that happened.

She soaked a rag, formerly part of Chakotay's shirt, in the basin and carried it back to him. She seated herself on the edge of the cot and began bathing his face with the cool cloth.

"That feels wonderful," he told her. "Thank you."

Hours passed. She left his side only to resoak the rag. Not that she could have left. His condition worsened, as did her fear. As he became delirious he called her name frequently, and at one point he seemed to think she was Tuvok.

"Tuvok, make sure she knows," he repeated several times. "Live long, and prosper."

The door slid open and her heart clenched with fear before she recognized the visitor.

"Fever," Kanoa said. "Perhaps that is for the best. Once he is gone I'll be authorized to help you escape."

The meaning of the words struck her. She stared in horror.

"Let him die. It will free you both."

"Never," she said. "I wouldn't let an enemy die untended in this place, much less someone I love. Please, help me save him. I need something to bring down the fever, and a doctor. I need to get him out of here."

"Saving his life now will cost you your own, and for nothing. You will both be executed."

"Then at least he won't be alone. Find a way to help him, please."

"I don't think it can be done."

"Try." She turned her back to Kanoa and resumed bathing Chakotay's face with the cool water.

Alone again, she leaned forward and pressed her lips softly against his temple. "I said it, didn't I? Don't make that be the only time. Stay with me, Chakotay, and I promise I'll say it again, when you're awake."

Kanoa returned hours later. She clutched Chakoay's hand to her chest, watching him breath. Fearing, more than anything before in her life, that every breath might be his last.

"I brought you some things," the visitor said.

She was almost afraid to tear her eyes from the rise and fall of his chest, as if doing so would cause it to stop.

She opened the basket that was handed to her. A medical tricorder, regenorators, hyposprays...These had come from Voyager. One particular item gave her hope again: The Doctor's mobile emitter.

The EMH worked quickly, not commenting on his captain's tearstained face. The commander had been near death, but with the proper supplies his injuries were quickly repaired.

It was inhumane that he had been forced to go so long without treatment. The ruptured spleen could have killed him if his blood hadn't clotted in time, and if that long wound had nicked his intestines he might have died a very painful death.

"How did this happen?" he asked as he repaired the long gash.

"They cut him with a knife," the captain answered, not bothering to mask the anger in her voice. "They were trying to get a confession, or so they claimed."

The Doctor was outraged. "Torture?"

She nodded.

"I'll see that Tuvok knows," he whispered. "We've been working with the leaders from the southern continent. It won't be much longer, Captain."

Kanoa returned. "It is time to go. They'll be checking cells within minutes."

A week-long struggle to locate the missing captain and first officer had left the entire crew on edge. B'Elanna, who had spent much of the time repairing the Delta Flyer, was particularly grumpy.

The pirates, in an attempt to steal components, had torn apart many of the internal systems. Tom suspected that it was the incompetence of the thieves that angered her the most.

"I'd be all for just transporting them out of there and running," B'Elanna said. "Unfortunately, all three of these prison buildings are built using an unusual metal alloy. It's blocking both the sensors and the transporters."

"Tuvok's still convinced they can find a diplomatic solution," Tom said. "He may be right, but if not, I've already volunteered for the rescue operation."

She sighed, frustrated no doubt that her pregnancy kept her from volunteering as well. "Harry and I will keep working on the sensor problem."

"Good," he said. "If we do have to go charging in, I'd like to know where exactly to find them."

When Chakotay woke up, he almost immediately noticed the lack of pain. He also noticed the warm weight of Kathryn's head pillowed against his shoulder. For the first time he managed to enjoy the cozy feeling.

His movements woke her, and she smiled broadly despite the dark circles under her eyes.

"Welcome back," she said.

"Was I gone?"

"I thought I was going to lose you," she whispered, and he thought he saw a shimmer of tears in her eyes.

He reached up and touched her cheek, and for a moment he thought she might kiss him, but the cell door opened and the moment was lost.

"Enter your plea," the robed official ordered.

Kathryn stood up straight, looking each of the audience directly in the eye. "First I would like to hear the charges."

"You know what you have done," the judge answered. "Enter your plea."

"I have done nothing wrong," she said. "I still do not know the charges. I demand to be released."

The crowd tittered with laughter.

"Where were you at the time of the crime?"

"I do not know," she said. "I don't -- ."

"You do not know?" The judge laughed. "What a lie! You can't do better?"

She refrained from rolling her eyes. "I don't know when the crime occurred."

The judge turned his attention to Chakotay. "And you?"

"I am also innocent of any wrongdoing," he said. "Although I do not know what charges you have brought against me."

"See?" The judge gestured dramatically to the crowd. "These criminals, they always say that they do not know. It is why they are dangerous." He leaned toward Chakotay. "Explain to me what you have done, and how, and I will spare your lives."

"I cannot explain the details of a crime of which I have no knowledge."

"Can you identify this?" The judge displayed a short metal rod.

"No sir, I cannot."

"Ah hah! This is your very own trading stick, found on you when you were brought in, and yet you deny it." The judge turned to the audience. "It wasn't even used in the crime, and yet still you lie. See, good people, how these criminals lie even when it does not matter?"

The crowd applauded.

"You will both die for the lies you have told here today. Consu will be a safer nation without you in it."

Kathryn leaned heavily upon Chakotay's arm as they were escorted back to their cell. The Doctor had not been able to repair the damage to her leg; doing so would have risked alerting the guards to the spy in their midst. Chakotay wore a synthetic scab over his now closed wound.

"The guilty certainly do have the advantage in this place," she said. "If we had actually done something, we might have had enough information to talk our way out of it."

"I think you're right." He helped her over to their cot as the guards slammed the door behind them. "Fortunately Tuvok will get us out of here before they execute us."

"What about the other innocents in this place? Something has to be done for them as well."

"We'll find a way," he said. "Once we get back to the ship, we'll aid Kanoa and his people as best we can."

Days passed, and still no word from Tuvok. Chakotay, who had been fortunate enough to be treated by the Doctor, wished that Kathryn could have benefitted as well. He offered her what little help he could, but there wasn't much to do.

They didn't see Kanoa again, and worried that he had been caught. Still, they both had confidence that the senior staff could find a way to orchestrate a prison break. It wouldn't be the first time.

Kathryn was laying on the bunk with her leg propped up, watching Chakotay exercise, when an unfamiliar guard entered.

"If you have accounts to settle before leaving this life, do it now," he said. "Your execution has been arranged."

Chakotay crossed the cell and she quickly made room for him on the bunk.

"I made a promise, when you were feverish," she began.

"I know," he said. "I heard you, Kathryn."

She brought her hand up to touch his face. "Chakotay -- "

"No, not yet. Tuvok will come through, and I want to collect on that promise then."

He didn't want a deathbed confession either, she realized as she let him wrap his arms around her. Besides, there was still time. The crew most certainly had a plan; they just had to be patient.

"It is time," the guard said.

They glanced at each other in alarm. Tuvok has people in the corridor, Kathryn told herself. She prepared herself for a fight, and watched for some signal as she and Chakotay were herded through the passageways.

She leaned heavily against him, not only trying to keep her weight off of her leg, but also to give the guards the impression that she couldn't support her own weight. She suspected that any moment that extra element of surprise would come in handy.

They emerged into the bright sunlight. Jeering crowds lined the fences around the courtyard. A dozen armed guards faced them. A sinister platform overshadowed it all.

Chakotay didn't believe they were about to die until he saw the platform. So our journey ends here, he thought. Kathryn wouldn't get them home. He had always been so sure she would get them home, and now her life would be stolen from her, incomplete.

He was still beside her. At least she wouldn't be taken from this life alone; at least their spirits would journey to the next life together. He helped her up the platform steps, protecting her from the violence the guards threatened if she took too long on her injured leg.

They stood together, facing a jeering crowd and what they both knew to be a firing squad.

He looked down at her. "Tuvok will get them home."

She nodded, and reached up to pull his head down to hers. Her kiss filled him with a joy that erased their surroundings. A tingling sensation swept through him, and it seemed to him they were floating together. It wasn't until her lips left his that he heard the distinctive sound of a hologram clearing his throat.

They had been transported back to sickbay, he realized, and tried to step back from his captain so she could regain her dignity. Instead, she tugged him back against her and kissed him again briefly before turning to the Doctor.

"That just-in-the-nick-of-time rescue bit is downright cliched," she said. "Still, I wouldn't want to be unappreciative."

The captain barely let the Doctor repair her broken leg before she gathered the senior staff in the briefing room. She listened as Tom Paris explained how ensigns Kim, Campbell, and Vorik had been transporting prisoners off the execution platform just as the firing squads pulled their triggers.

While the Consu had energy weapons and warp travel, they hadn't even thought of transporters. The ruse was working perfectly.

"A group of pirates have been making their living selling 'alien criminals' to members of the Consu law enforcement," Tuvok explained. "The pirates are now in custody."

"Our custody?" the captain asked.

"Some of them, but not for long. Mister Kanoa arranged for his government to expedite their trials. He plans to make sure the Consu people hear all of the details."

"And the current prisoners?"

"We have agreed that Voyager will remain in orbit so that we can continue to prevent executions. No new prisoners have been taken, and once the pirates are tried properly, it is believed that the Consu officials will be forced to release any remaining prisoners."

"So the situation is under control?" Chakotay asked.

Everyone nodded.

The Doctor spoke up. "Now that you know that, Captain, perhaps I could suggest that for once you actually follow my advice, and get some rest?"

"I'd be delighted," she answered. "As long as that medical advice doesn't include a stern warning about my coffee intake. Good work, everyone. Dismissed."

Chakotay stayed behind, as she had known he would.

"I still have a promise to keep," she told him. "I've done some thinking, and even if I hadn't made that promise, the time has come."

"I like the sound of that." He slid his arms around her.

She reached up to stroke his face. "When it comes to protocol, we'd be better off if we were actually guilty of breaking it. Any admiral who would deny us after all we've been through for the last seven years isn't inclined to be reasonable anyhow."

"I agree." He smiled down at her. "I've always thought we shouldn't let them hold sway over our actions. The more important thing is, are we ready to balance a command relationship with a personal relationship?"

"Chakotay, we've been doing that for years. It may be bumpy, but we'll survive just like we have before."

"In that case..." He chuckled and bent down to kiss her lightly.

She leaned into him. "My bed's much bigger than that cot."

"It will be a nice change, to share a bed with you without getting splinters in my thigh."

She laughed wickedly. "I think what I have in mind will be a lot more fun, too."

A/N: Kanoa is a Hawaiian name meaning 'free'. This story was partially inspired by KJ's classic fic Until Death Do.

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This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties exist as Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, July 2003.